He alo ā he alo / kanohi ki te kanohi / face-to-face: curatorial bodies, encounters and relations

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Throughout the Pacific, interpersonal encounters are characterized by a deep level of physical intimacy and engagement - from the honi/hongi, the face-to-face greeting, to the ha‘a/haka wero, acts of challenge that also serve as a celebratory acknowledgement of ancestral presences. In these physical exchanges, relationships are built, tended, and tested through an embodied confirmation of values, practices, and ethics. For museums holding Pacific collections, the importance of relationships, and their physicality , persists. The increasing acknowledgment of, and interaction with, communities of origin, whose works reside in museums throughout the world, is thereby not a new practice but the current stage of a continuum of relations that have ebbed and flowed over centuries. This chapter involves the interdisciplinary work of three scholars whose research, interests and collaborations coalesce around concepts of indigenous curatorial practice. Kahanu focusses on Bishop Museum’s E Kū Ana Ka Paia exhibition (2010), which featured important Hawaiian temple images loaned from the British Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum, as well as the Nā Hulu Ali‘i exhibition which gathered Hawaiian featherwork from around the world (2015/2016). She highlights how the Hawaiian practice of he alo a he alo in cross-cultural contexts facilitated these exhibitions, thereby ultimately enabling extensive community engagement. Nepia discusses two recent programs at the University of Hawai‘i, ARTspeak and the Binding and Looping: Transfer of Presence in Contemporary Pacific Art exhibition, as a means of examining how Pacific Island artists articulate contemporary creative practice, particularly as it relates to physical and bodily encounters. Schorch concludes the volume with a coda which historicises Curatopia and its underpinning relations and engagements He Alo A He Alo / Kanohi Ki Te Kanohi / Face to Face.

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... Two years prior, at another talanoa in the same gallery space, our cluster had discussed Indigenous futurisms. Moana Nepia shared a photograph of Noelle Kahanu (University of Hawai'i) and Kamana'opono Crabbe, Ka Pouhana (CEO of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs) at Auckland Airport -one arriving and one departing the motu (island) and sharing a honi (greeting) by touching hands and pressing noses on either side of a glass panel (Kahanu et al. 2018). While their sharing of breath was precluded, surely the glass fogged up, and this thwarted exchange had a new presence and visibility? ...
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In 2019, the Vā Moana-Pacific Spaces research group at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) began to investigate how core Moana and Māori values can be translated from onsite, embodied engagements into digital environments. This was prompted by our wish to provide access to all those who could not travel to attend a conference in late 2021 for our Marsden-funded research project, 'Vā Moana: Space and relationality in Pacific thought and identity' (2019-22). The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally reframed this premise, as providing offsite access was no longer simply a 'nice option'. The crisis challenged us to find out how virtual participation in events can uphold values of tikanga (correct procedure, custom) and teu le vā (nurturing relational space). In particular, our research examines practices foregrounding vā as the attachment to and feeling for place, as well as relatedness between people and other entities. We have observed an emerging conceptual deployment of vā as relational space and a mode of belonging, especially in diasporic constellations oriented by a cosmopolitan understanding of vā. Due to this focus, we noticed early on that simply moving meetings online is unlikely to create a supportive environment for Indigenous researchers in diaspora, who share principal values and a commitment to a kaupapa (agenda, initiative). This realization led us to interrogate how research collaboration and circulation are influenced by the distinct features of physical and online contexts, protocols and connectivity. To develop the alternative kind of vā we envisaged-together with strategies to sustain it through our online practices-thus became a much larger project in the times of rapid change under COVID-19. This is a very brief, initial report on our experiences.
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