Anna Bibby Gallery, Auckland
3 - 21 July 2001

In the paintings for my latest exhibition entitled Virgin I have deliberately brought together all the pictorial clichés that have come to represent Polynesia, including images of lush tropical vegetation and flowers along with the recognisable figure of the exotic Pacific Island temptress, the dusky maiden. Using an excessively colourful palette and thick layers of gloss enamel paint I have created a sumptuous painterly surface overlaid with seductive virginal women.

While it may appear that I am merely replicating the stereotyped European construction of Polynesia by appropriating female nudes from colonial photographs of young Pacific Island women and from the well known paintings of Tahitian maidens by Gauguin, this is merely a decoy to draw attention to the fact that camouflage is my painterly weapon.

Camouflage initially comes into play in Virgin, as it did in my last two bodies of work, Quarantine and Bad Medicine, through the act of painting directly over tapa cloth.  I have deliberately effaced the culturally significant designs on the tapa surface and replaced them with a new set of pictorial signifiers.

In Virgin, this efface and replace aesthetic extends to my rendering of the nude female figure in silhouette. By concealing the facial expressions of the subjects and their particularised surroundings I am highlighting the vulnerability, awkwardness and fear reflected in the poses of these ‘real’ women in the work of those artists who originally captured them on film and in paint. My painterly camouflage offers the women a degree of anonymity and dignity that has hitherto been denied them. They are further concealed from view by the arrangement of large painted flowers and leaves which allows them to blend into the patterned background of the works and to almost disappear from sight.

All of my work to date can be characterised in terms of a camouflage aesthetic. I lure or attract the viewer to my work through my use of colour, through the tactility of my painterly surfaces and through the attraction of my graphic imagery, all of which is designed to disguise or veil the larger issues lying just below the surface. As a strategy, camouflage enables me to be misleading, evasive and ambivalent while at the same time declaring my full awareness as a Samoan artist that my work is embedded within a cultural context. My Virgin paintings are thus decidely impure just as my Mistints, Stigma, Wallflowers, Quarantine and Bad Medicine series were before them.