fa'amatalaga tufuga
artist statements

T I K I   M A N I F E S T O
dan taulapapa mcmullin


Tiki mug, tiki mug
My face, my mother’s face, my father’s face, my sister’s face
Tiki mug, tiki mug

White beachcombers in tiki bars drinking zombie cocktails from tiki mugs
The undead, the Tiki people, my mother’s face, my father’s face
The black brown and ugly that make customers feel white and beautiful

Tiki mugs, tiki ashtrays, tiki trashcans, tiki kitsch cultures
Tiki bars in Los Angeles, a tiki porn theatre, tiki stores
Tiki conventions, a white guy named Kukulelei singing in oogabooga fake Hawaiian
makes me yearn to hear a true Kanaka Maoli like Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole 
sing chant move his hands the antidote to tiki bar people 
who don't listen because tiki don’t speak any language 
do they

Tiki bars in L.A., in Tokyo, in the lands of Tiki, Honolulu, Pape’ete
Wherever tourists need a background of black skin brown skin ugly faces 
to feel land of the free expensive rich on vacation hard working 
with a background of wallpaper tiki lazy people wallpaper 
made from our skins our faces our ancestors our blood

Yes its all wrong but looks like my great grandmother’s fale sort of 
except she isn’t here and it doesn’t really, her fale 
didn’t have a neon sign blinking for one thing

And yes it looks like Polynesian sculpture sort of not really but what 
is the difference, the difference is this, we didn’t make it
or if we did it was someone desperate but probably not any of us
just someone making a buck carving sh*t for drunks

The difference is this our sculpture is beautiful, tiki kitsch sculpture is ugly
not because they look so very different but because their sh*t 
is SUPPOSED TO BE UGLY
because we are supposed to be ugly
and if we are ugly then they are BEAUTIFUL 
American or European or Australian or even Asian or 
I’m sorry but a lot of us too and ANYONE can be beautiful and expensive 
as long as tiki kitsch is on the walls looking ugly and cheap

I like going to tiki bars sometimes and hearing island music or
doing island karaoke and there are tiki bars in the islands sort of but 
there they’re just bars and I’m HERE in Los Angeles or anywhere here 
in the so-called West which is EVERYWHERE 
and here, we are tiki mug people, my mother’s face, my father’s face
my face, my sister’s face

Our Tiki sculptures are based on OUR classic carvings, which are abstractions, idealizations 
of BEAUTY, our beauty, though in these bars they are…
Well, you get it

Can I remind us that Tiki
Whom we call Ti’eti’e and Ti'iti'i
Some call Ki’i, some call Ti’i

That Tiki was beautiful, jutting eyebrow, thick lips, wide nose
brown skin in some islands
black skin in some islands
brown black deep, thick thighs
jutting eyebrow, thick lips, wide nostrils, breathing

Lifting the sky over Samoa, lifting the sky over Tonga
lifting the sky over Viti, lifting the sky over Rapanui
lifting the sky over Tahiti, lifting the sky over Hawai’i
lifting the sky over Aotearoa, and looking to, paying respects 
to Papua, to the Chamorro, to Vanuatu, to Kiribati
lifting the ten heavens above Moana, not your Pacific, but 
our Moana

And now in tiki bars Chilean soldiers have drinks from tiki mugs after shooting 
down Rapanui protestors in Rapanui, not Easter Island, not Isla de Pascua
but Rapanui, whose entire population was kidnapped and sold in slavery 
to Chilean mines in the 19th century, and whose survivors are shot on the streets 
of their lands still just a few days ago in 2011 in Rapanui

And American police drink maitais in Honolulu bars from tiki mugs while 
native Hawaiian people live homeless on the beaches

And Indonesian settlers drink from tiki mugs in West Papua where 100,000 
Papuans have been killed seeking freedom after being sold down the river by 
President Kennedy so he could build some mines for his rich cultivated 
humanitarian friends

And French tourists drink from tiki mugs in Nouvelle Calédonie and Polynesie Française
while native people are…

Where? Where are we? 
In the wallpaper, on the mugs?


Artist Statement of Dan Taulapapa McMullin September 26, 2012

Painting is the means of my artistic practice: representational oil painting, transfer collages, and abstractions on canvas and panel. Focusing my search on paint and the surface, the overall synthesis is in abstraction and representation, which I also think of in terms of language (abstraction) and meaning (representation). 

My work is diverse. I hold to no overdetermining theory of painting. This is my engagement with the contemporary world in which I live. My practice moves from representations of the body in sensual-political relationships to abstractions weaving strands of color selected from digital images. It also moves from collages of tiki kitsch appropriation to infantile expressions of the subconscious. This fluidity of movement in my practice subverts entrenched narratives and allows for experimentation along different tracks of expression that may or may not meet.

Through a form of landscape painting, I express a world overturned, torn apart and reassembled in abstract patterns. I collage images I find on the Internet along with my own photographs, reintegrating both with trompe-l'œil effects. I often assemble objects of art with incompatible things, drawing on humor and fear to embody a kind of ironic romanticism. In my fractured and reassembled works, I seek to express my own mortality, my own humanness or even animalness, between the taming of culture in the world and the wild beauty of life in the universe.

I also make abstract paintings that are somewhat minimal in appearance if not in execution or representation. They include references to landscape, weaving, linguistics, and the body. I utilize computer technology and photographic processes in my choice of colors and forms. I recognize this mediation as an important part of my process, with its own dangers and fallacies, its own reiterating labyrinths and potentially endless mirrorings.

As a painter and poet, I define the relationship between representation and abstraction by way of semiotics in the Saussurean notion of language as arbitrary signs of the reality of the signified. In painting, there are many languages that relate to each other in the most abstract and arbitrary manner, separate from the reality of the represented.

By way of reality, I refer quite often to misperceptions of reality, as I find myself confronted with misreadings or political bendings of reality in the world of signs that I live in. I seek to overturn these readings or bendings with my own viewpoint. My perspective was molded by three influences: 1) Samoan Islander and Polynesian visual culture, which is abstract; 2) by “fa'afafine” or Samoan trans-queer culture, which is ritualistic, liminal, and subversive, and; 3) the representational politics of indigenous struggle, which is communal, but not internationalist in the Marxist sense.

In my critical project I include appropriated images that speak their own languages, often dialectics of commodity culture. My (re)appropriation is part of my search for revolutionary language and alternative meanings. Part of the process involves dislocating a viewer's conceptions from interpretations that support a common or dominant structure, nudging them (and myself) toward a deeper reality. Through investigation of my own seeing I seek a liberation from political oppression and compromise.

For me to view painting as the culmination of any one history is not productive. Similarly, to view any culture as an endgame or as a tributary to another culture is to buy into the idea of the monolith or the taming of the earth, into a kind of monotheism or degradation of the untamed. My belief system is rooted in forms of polytheism, biodiversity, and the blessings of the wild, or “manuia,” as we say in Samoa.

I was early on invested in barkcloth painting, image-making, and weaving of indigenous peoples. These I learned as a child from my great-grandmother Fa'asapa in Malaeloa village in the Samoa Islands of the South Pacific. Such practices are as diverse in their meanings as they are similar in their means. They complicate the languages of contemporary practice an they form a central dialog of my work.

Being at the fountain of cultural globalization, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States, my practice dwells in the belly of an electric whale. Here culture is commodified in essentialist tropes that capitalize diverse meanings into meaninglessness. It is this cleansing of meaning that enables commodities to have their widest markets and for dominate narratives to spin down endlessly.

But in this morass of meaninglessness are some germs of new thinking. Dwelling on the surface of things as we do, on the skin of the canvas, so to speak, at times almost any configuration or composition of meanings and colors is possible. There is almost no hierarchy of image and no subaltern position of iconography in such times of change. All that is visible is in conversation and this chaos allows for a life of work like mine while more noble structures fall like angels.

I hope to continue my project of queering meaning. Of altering the definitions of things we see in common blindly, tracing the brilliant wings of human misperceptions and misunderstandings. I paint to see and I work not to lose meaning in the having but to discover it in the finding.

dan taulapapa mcmullin