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Associate Professor Katerina Teaiwa’s research on phosphate mining on the island of Banaba is the basis of an exhibition at Carriageworks in Sydney opening on 17th November. Curated by internationally renowned New Zealand artist Yuki Kihrara, through this exhibition Teaiwa has expanded her own definitions of research, as well as bringing this little known chapter of Australian history to a broader public audience.
To transform the research into her exhibition Associate Professor Teaiwa enlisted the help of practitioners, artists and students at the ANU School of Art and Design, immersing herself in practice-led artistic research to deliver this ambitious exhibition at Carriageworks, the largest multi-arts centre in Australia.
The exhibition comprises three interconnected works exploring how the people and the land of Banaba were viewed and transformed by powerful imperial mining and agricultural interests.
‘From 1900 to 1980 a series of companies and the British Phosphate Commissioners mined the island of Banaba in what is now known as the Republic of Kiribati. As a result, the island was rendered uninhabitable and the Banabans were relocated to Rabi in Fiji. This exhibition brings together rare historical archives and new work that sheds light on this history and its ongoing impact on Pacific communities. Banabans view their ancestral island, the rock of Banaba, as te aba, the body of the land, and the body of the people,’ says Associate Professor Teaiwa.
For most of the 20th century, phosphate was a matter of national and food security. During her research for the exhibition, Teaiwa identified approximately 518 metres of government files associated with the British Phosphate Commision in the National Archives of Australia, some of which have only recently been declassified. The valuable rock found naturally on Banaba was first identified from a sample in a Sydney company office, which was then manufactured into superphosphate fertiliser and applied to farms across Australia and New Zealand, resulting in a dramatic increase in agricultural productivity in those countries. The value of the minerals on Banaba also made the island a target for Japanese occupation during World War II and many Banabans and Pacific Islander or “kanaka” mining workers were killed during this period. The 72nd anniversary of Banaban displacement is being marked on 15 December 2017 during the exhibition dates.
Associate Professor Teaiwa is of Banaban, Kiribati and African American descent. She is the author of Consuming Ocean Island (2015) and editor with Polly Stupples of Contemporary Perspectives on Art and International Development (2016). Until now her creative practice has centred on contemporary Pacific dance and she was a founding member of the Oceania Dance Theatre in Fiji. She has performed in Suva, Canberra, Honolulu, Santa Cruz and New York. Most recently Teaiwa worked with visual artists, designers and scientists transforming her work into a comic book at the Anthropocene Kitchen, an "Interdisciplinary Laboratory Image Knowledge Gestaltung" at the Hermann von Helmholtz Centre for Cultural Techniques, Berlin.