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Coming up on 27 April 2012 is the opening of another wonderful exhibition at City Gallery Wellington. John Ioane: Poly wants a cracker features a powerful installation from the Te Papa collection.

The title of John Ioane’s installation Poly wants a cracker plays with the language and standards imposed on Pacific cultures by colonizing Western powers. For example Poly – Polynesian; cracker – a derogatory expression, originally meaning an ‘outlaw’ and later a ‘poor white’ in parts of the Southern U.S.A. A cracker is also a merchant food item introduced to the Pacific by Western traders.

John Ioane’s work deals with the sexual division between male and female imposed on Pacific Island cultures by colonialism. When faced with the traditional carvings of the penis in Pacific Island cultures, missionaries organised the removal of these progenitive penises. Here the visitor is literally faced with penises: but these are not Pacific, they are fleshy pink western sex toys, surrounded by leis, representing the female. John plays with the notions of power inherent in the relationships between male and female, Western and “other” cultures, which often assume the “female” role when faced with domination. John speaks of desiring respect for the Pacific notion of woman of today and of the future; for her role to be more than a “lay”.

Serenading the “lay-ed” penises is a mannequin specially constructed with a 1950’s head but modern body referencing the Pacific stereotypes that crystallised in the kitsch of the 1950’s that still haunt our notions of the “Pacific”. This hula boy is named “Sale” – this title can be read as a Polynesian name, or a commodity; for sale.
The sexuality of the word “Sale” is ambiguous. This “Sale” references the embarrassing nature of some Polynesians to be accepted as trophies of a predominantly Western intellectual and social merit system with its economic comforts.

Poly wants a cracker will be on display at City Gallery Wellington until 10 June 2012.

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