Darcell Apelu, Sione Monu, Kerry Ann Lee, LI Liao, LI Jinghu, LIU Weiwei, Natalie Robertson, HUANG Songhao, Salome Tanuvasa, Angela Tiatia, Vaimaila Urale.
Curated by Lana Lopesi and Ahilapalapa Rands
ST PAUL St Gallery
Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou, ka ora ai te iwi.*
Food is inherently political: who it represents, how it’s shared and how it’s produced. Across Moananui-a-kiwa plantations of copra, cacao, sugar, pineapple and vanilla have been the basis of multiple waves of migrant and slave labour trades, including colonial empires turning to Asia as a labour force. Guangdong Province, which now holds a lead position within China’s economic powerbase, was one of the major ports of exit for often indentured labourers in the early 19th century.
While the connection between Indigenous communities and Asian labour migrants initially came through colonial plantations, long-lasting relationships formed outside of this imperial context. Colonial attitudes towards indentured labour changed at the start of the 20th century and ceased for good in Fiji in 1920, and 1931 in Samoa and Hawaiʻi. At this time many labourers returned to their various homelands, while a significant number decided to settle in the islands long term. Fiji and Samoa went on to gain independence toward the end of the century while Hawaiʻi is still illegally occupied.
Food is one signifier of these migrant and Indigenous relationships. In both Hawaiʻi and Samoa staple diets changed through the introduction of new Asian foods such as noodles, rice and pastry as well as the processes to prepare them. Foods such as sapasui, keke pua’a and musubi borrow from new food technologies, becoming local delicacies. Moreover, these highlight the power indigenous people have to adopt and adapt new foods into their diets, a sovereignty which doesn’t always exist in colonised lands across this vast ocean.
As descendants of Samoa, Fiji and Hawaiʻi that have grown up in Aotearoa we (Lana Lopesi and Ahilapalapa Rands) are implicitly connected to this history with our homelands having been administered by Germany, Britain and America respectively.
The plantation is a site where we not only cultivate crops but also trauma, resilience and hybridity. Through a variety of artistic approaches lei-pā uses food and labour to open up conversations of historic and contemporary cultural exchange. The artists featured in this exhibition speak from their context within both China and Moana-nui-a-kiwa. Their works are broad ranging, addressing issues of food production and food sovereignty to the labour required within our capitalist global market.
Poking fun at the colonial foundations of nation states and critiquing problematic international economic relationships masked by diplomacy, our narratives are not tidy, but it is where the works intersect, connect and miss one another that some semblance of our lived histories is honoured. We are so often pitted against one another within a politics of scarcity. However, through shared traumas of sorts, we can bypass the empire and talk directly to each other, as we have been doing for thousands of years.
*This whakataukī could be translated as “Co-operative enterprise succeeds where individual efforts are insufficient” or “With your food basket and my food basket combined we all thrive.”
To read lei-pā the publication made on the occasion of the exhibition click here. The publication includes contributions from Dr Emalani Case, Cameron Ah Loo Matamua, Melanie Rands, Faith Wilson, Sione Monu, Kim Lowe, Ioana Gordon-Smith and Emma Ng, Bepen Bhana and Liu Jia Ming.