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This exhibition presents the work of fifteen artists from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands of Hawaii, New Caledonia, Samoa, Fiji, Torres Strait Islands, and Niue. Paradise Now? questions the historical and contemporary ideas of the Pacific Islands as a paradise. Some of the most influential images of this region were forged in the eighteenth century by French and English explorers such as Louis Antoine de Bougainville and James Cook who described the islands as luscious, verdant, and unsullied environments and the people who inhabited them as friendly and uninhibited. These accounts also set the tone for later perceptions of the Pacific Islands as an idyllic haven. In Hollywood films from the twenties through the fifties, the Pacific Islands were a common backdrop for tales of exotic romance and escape.

In contrast to these representations of the Pacific, some artists from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands play with and subvert ideas of paradise. Paradise Now? contains a number of stark and disturbing views of the natural environment. Photographs and paintings portray dark, almost gothic landscapes inhabited by foreign creatures. These images differ from the cliché of sun-drenched beaches lined with coconut trees usually associated with the Pacific. At the same time, the artists voice concerns for the environment with references to mining, over-fishing, and farming.

Another notable characteristic of the works in the exhibition is a commentary on the changing nature of local Polynesian and Melanesian customs and cultures. As an increasing number of artists reside in cosmopolitan cities, their works include references to urban life alongside island traditions. Adding to this process of cultural change is the fact that many artists have been distanced from their homeland island culture through migration.

Some artists explore the history of the region since European and American settlement. Themes addressed include the introduction of Christianity, the impact of European cultures on indigenous cultures, and the development of the tourism industry. The works in the exhibition challenge ideas of paradise by providing an alternate, more complex vision of the Pacific.

Melissa Chiu
Curator of Contemporary Art

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