Honours student in Pacific Studies Mitiana Arbon will travel to Samoa this September as the winner of the 4A Emerging Writers Program for 2017.
Established in 1996, 4A is an independent not-for-profit contemporary art organisation whose purpose is to encourage and examine cultural exchange and dialogue in Asia.
This year, the focus of the program has expanded the organisation’s reach to include the Pacific.
Mitiana proposed to interview contemporary artists in Samoa and write two articles on the influence of diaspora on local arts practice, with a special focus on gender in Samoan art forms.
He will write two articles for Art Monthly Australasia and an another for 4A Papers, 4A’s journal.
Taking advantaged of his already well-established connections with Manamea, an arts collective in Apia established by ex-ANU scholar Nikki Mariner, for his Honours research, Mitana plans to use the opportunity to bolster his project.
Manamea promotes and supports artists to produce various of art forms, from the traditional Samoan forms of tattooing, carving alongside contemporary painting.
Mitiana will receive mentoring from the editor of Art Monthly Australasia Michael Fitzgerald.
‘In my writing I am hoping to create a space to highlight the work of Samoan artists and the conditions they face. Often smaller studios are sidelined in the larger picture of contemporary art. Especially when you talk about Samoan art people tend to refer to traditional forms, so contemporary artists are often invisible in this space.’
‘I am hoping to do a PhD in future, and I would love to work in a museum or an art gallery. I think when you talk about the Pacific ‘museum’ and ‘art gallery’ are used interchangeably.’
‘In my honours thesis I am examining the choices made about the Pacific art on permanent display at the National Gallery of Australia. I am especially interested in how they have selected the pieces– what kind of rationale is suggested by those choices?
‘I am also examining the way contemporary art sits in relation to that because the National Gallery’s collection is quite old. It comes from former colonial collections. At the moment there is limited space for engagement with contemporary communities to input into this representation, and limited space for engagement with contemporary art practices.
‘This is important because the National Gallery has a mandate to represent a national Australian ideology for engaging with the region, and I think we need to update the way we examine the region and present it to a public audience.'
Mitiana has been making the most of his time at the ANU, and not only as a student.
‘I am constantly astounded by the opportunities I’ve had to work with academics at the ANU and access world-class research. I have recently started working at the Devpolicy Blog run by the Development Policy Centre. It is a platform for aid and development analysis, research and policy comment, with global coverage and a focus on Australia, the Pacific and Papua New Guinea. The academic and timely research that comes through that space is incredibly diverse and inspiring as a student.’