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GRASS ROOTS

A new reality in artwork of Pacific Isles

May 25, 2008|Lynne Heffley

NOT ALL Pacific Islanders dance the hula, and their places of origin -- a multitude of islands -- are more than just tourists' tropical paradise destinations. That bit of consciousness-raising is the point of "Pacifika: Young Perspectives on Pacific Island Art," the first in a series of community exhibitions at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.

Featuring an eclectic selection of artifacts and adornments, the exhibition was created in an effort to broaden the museum's cultural scope and reach young and diverse audiences in Los Angeles, home to thousands whose origins include Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Guam and Micronesia.

The show, running through Aug. 24, has an unusual provenance: J. Julian Bermudez, the museum's exhibitions coordinator, explains that the planning was influenced by members of Carson High School's Pacific Island Club and UCLA's Pacific Islands Student Assn.

"We're a region that's often not represented at all, or is misunderstood or just not portrayed correctly," says Christine Santos, a Guam native and co-chair of the UCLA group. "This is the first time we've seen an exhibition devoted to early Pacific Island society and reactions of modern Pacific Islanders."

Among those reactions are recorded comments from the UCLA students aired continuously over a speaker in the small gallery. In addition, photographs of Carson High students performing in traditional dress are screened on a video loop.

Among the objects on display, a 19th century Hawaiian lei made of human hair, coconut fiber and a whale tooth is a dramatic symbol of ruling-class spiritual and actual power. A graceful wooden comb from Fiji, with a half-moon handle and long tapering teeth, represents the reality of everyday lives when men carved objects for the home, not primarily for tourists. A small replica of a wooden Samoan outrigger canoe reminds one student of Flag Day competitions in his village. The museum is currently working with members of the Philippine community to create its next exhibit.

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-- Lynne Heffley

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