Creating Kastom : contemporary art in Port Vila, Vanuatu

Mcdonald, Lisa (2015) Creating Kastom : contemporary art in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis explores the relationship between contemporary art and kastom in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Since the mid-1980s indigenous paintings, drawings, tapestries and sculptures have become prominent features of the urban visual landscape. By way of ethnological survey, this thesis examines current modes of production, circulation and reception to reveal the changing socio-cultural capital of these objects. Based on two periods of extended fieldwork, this research relies on participant observation, semi-structured interviews, studio and exhibition visits, written surveys and informal discussions for its primary data.
Focusing on a core group of practicing artists who primarily belong to either the Nawita Contemporary Arts Association or the Red Wave Vanuatu Contemporary Arts Association, this thesis highlights the influences of island affiliation, kin networks and social relations upon the structure of the local artworld. Within the pluralistic matrix of town, artists adopt kastom as thematic content for their work. Representations of the chiefly body, dance routines, marriage ceremonies and traditional stories highlight the means by which makers creatively assert their cultural identity. Similarly, depictions that incorporate stylised icons and codified motifs convey the knowledge, status and entitlement held by different artists. When presented to local audiences, these visual cues are regarded as prideful celebrations of the unique characteristics of the nation.
This thesis concludes that just as kastom is not a static entity, nor is the category of contemporary art. In Port Vila, a space of rapid social change, deeply embedded values and beliefs intertwine with the forces of modernity to redefine notions of indigenous heritage. Within this framework, artists in the capital interrogate the realities of their lived experiences to present images and forms that reflect the ever-evolving circumstances particular to their corpus and careers.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Jackie Webb
Date Deposited: 07 Oct 2016 14:18
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2016 14:18


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