Masquerading States: transracial embodiment and national imaginaries
(University of Melbourne)
Paper short abstract:
Aesthetic practices involving cross-cultural impersonation are one form of imaging the state through the eyes of 'the other'. This paper takes an example of a 1920's literary masquerade of a German author as a Samoan chief and its reinterpretation in photographic form by Samoan artist Yuki Kihara .
Paper long abstract:
The appropriation of the indigenous art and design in order to symbolically forge the settler colonial nation-state is a well-documented phenomenon. A less common, but nevertheless historically persistent, form of imaging the state occurs in aesthetic practices of cross-cultural impersonation, for example literary impersonations of an 'other' voice or in performance practices such as 'blackface'. This paper takes one example, Der Papalagi: Die Reden des Südseehäuptlings Tuiavii aus Tiavea (The White Man: The Speeches of the South Seas Chief Tuiavii from Tiavea, 1920) written by a German masquerading as a Samoan chief in order to critique and re-imagine the German state. This novel was re-appropriated by Samoan artist Yuki Kihara who, in 2016, created Der Papalagi as a series of still photographs and a video installation, featuring two long-term German residents dressed in Samoan chiefly garments. In doing so, the work reveals the racialized poetics of national imaginaries as well as providing commentary on transracial aesthetic practices that accompanied European colonialism and continue in global and neo-colonial forms of artistic production.
Embodied rituals, symbols and performances: embodiment as a negotiation of the state, and state negotiations of embodiment