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Island art-resistance encounters

I was tempted to do a selfie with this selfie-taking penguin family on Ocean View Rd at Oneroa yesterday but I could not find the right angle. The penguins make enough of a statement by themselves I thought, not only taking the Mickey out of our new social media influenced behavior but also of the many tourists/day visitors from the mainland who inundate the island over summer, in search of a temporary experience of an island paradise. The person who bought this sculpture by a local artist, Jay Lloyd, thought it would be better on public display on that very tourist busy road of the island for everyone to enjoy --- and a perfect 'tongue in the cheek' kind of statement by the locals to the invaders, I would say.

Serendipity at play, as I walked into the SPACE Art Gallery just a few meters from where this sculpture is standing, I met the artist, who is a member of a local artist collective that runs SPACE. We got into talking about island art and what it means to be an artist on an island, this island. The conversation was enlightening in many ways and much of what I learned was relevant to my mapping research of this island's communicative ecology. Jay told me that this sculpture was part of the "Sculp Oneroa" annual event that brings Waiheke's own sculpture work into the main village of the island. "The location of each work is thoughtfully selected in order to create a dialogue between the work and its setting" (you can't deny the location of the selfie-taking penguins was spot on!) This statement about locality has not been, of course, a random one, as I learned in the course of our conversation. This event has been a counter-movement, a art-resistance if you like, to the other bigger and now very famous "Headland Sculpture on the Gulf" summer event that was originally the initiative of the Waiheke Community Art Gallery before it was taken over by bigger forces outside the island and turning it into "New Zealand’s premier contemporary outdoor sculpture exhibition... listed in the New York Times as number 35 in the top 46 destination events in the world to visit."

The magnitude of this reminds me what my colleague and islands expert Godfrey Baldacchino had once said: "Their inhabitants [islands] survive thanks to an openness to imports and exports, and this cultural and economic permeability renders them particularly susceptible to "invasions" [....] Thus, small islands notionally become easy pray to homogenizing globalisation. They enjoy no hinterland to escape to, find solace in, or fall back on" (Keynote address, Islands of the World VII, 2002).

The local artists felt left out, and that their island space was taken over by outsiders to present art that was not representative of their island's artist community or indeed reflecting the island's own character. It simply provided the backdrop (a stunning one) for these sophisticated pieces of contemporary sculpture that I myself had visited in the past but stopped at some point because I found them somewhat pretentious and out of relevance to their "island stage". Now that I know more, I can understand better my own reaction to this. The event was also organized in such a way that as soon as the visitors arrived by ferry they were herded to the nearby headland where the sculpture art was on display offering them food and drinks along the way, keeping them thus on the pre-designed trail. The ferry company and the event organizers were the ones to profit most from this event. So, the local artists went on the counter-offensive and created something that they felt was much more inclusive of their community.

I loved this island resistance story, such a good example of how islands can create counter events to maintain a sense of ownership of their island space and identity. As many islanders have told me countless times, the more popular the island becomes, the more pressure this brings to the island resource-wise and a good indication of that popularity is the very high house prices that are on par with Auckland (and those are out of the roof, one of the highest in the world).

So my dream to claim a slice of this paradise is compromised by just the simple fact that I cannot afford to buy even an old dilapidated bungalow!

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