Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History of Art and Visual Culture
Artistic Responses to a Changing Planet: Creativity, Climate Change, and Colonial Cultures in Oceania

Climate change in Oceania is the product of colonial exploitation of Indigenous lands, seas, and bodies since the 18th century. The colonial processes that have given rise to climate refugees, disappearing homelands, contaminated waterways, drought, food shortage, and extreme weather events were achieved through cultural means as much as they were by economic and political policies. Through popular culture such as postcards, museum displays, and television series, Indigenous peoples were represented to the broader public in colonial nations as "inferior" and "dispensable" in order to make way for the "productive" and "civilized" transformation of land and seascapes. Without a nuanced understanding of these "colonial cultures" and how they continue to have devastating effects on the peoples and places of Oceania, environmental injustices will continue to occur. This research project examines the way Oceanic filmmakers, artists, curators, and architects address the threats of climate change in their regions by critically engaging colonial modes of representation. I argue it is their strategic subversions of colonial representations that offer countercolonial visions of the Pacific region and imagine a future beyond the colonial structures of power still in place. Their artistic choices can only be understood, I argue, in the context of a longer history by which Indigenous experiences, cultures, and futures have been denied a place in the global imagination. By using their creative practices that target a global audience, artists in Oceania underscore the relationships between colonial histories and the ongoing extraction of their lands, bodies, and cultures. In so doing, artists simultaneously decolonize climate change discourse and offer an alternative vision of Oceania.