Review: Jason Chute’s #realpacific: Photographs from Oceania

Real Pacific Photo Exhibition by Jason Chute

By Ariela Zibiah

Jason Chute’s collection of #realpacific: Photographs from Oceania pays homage to the Pacific region’s heterogeneity, a storytellers’ treasure trove.

Chute captures warmth in his sunsets and seduction in the milky way which rises out of a Red Breach. The stillness of dawn in a dew-covered countryside, the abundance of our ocean, the colonial legacy of churches and townships: in all, Chute provides an evocative island-hopping experience in one place, if that makes sense.

The Gallery of Oceanian Art which marks its 12th exhibition with this collection, should be commended for providing much-needed space for artists to show their interpretations of life, which has inevitably meant consistent and excellent works of art for Suva residents and tourists.

The Abandoned Church on Savai’i in Samoa reminds us of how nature regenerates, taking back spaces humans domesticated, and re-presenting them to us. The church is glued into place by lava from the 1905 Matavanu Volcano. The greenery and blackened lava lend a poignant air of loss to the disfigured church. Chute’s photographs stir ones’ regional and historical (subjective) musings.

Photography is not simply the production of an image; it is a record of a moment in time, a reference point. The collection covers a dozen island nations and territories, from the morning light over Papua New Guinea’s Tavurvur Volcano crater to the striking remnants of Nauru’s phosphate industry.

This collection, a first and solo outing, belies the predominant narrative of “drowning islands”. Chute exposes his heart through 30 images. However his process of deciding which photographs merit the public gaze remains a secret. There is no one theme so it may feel like the photographs were haphazardly thrown together. This is however defining of the #realpacific – still trying to ‘find ourselves’ post-contact, post-colonial.

Two pieces denote the cycle of life. The Decomposing Hull – once the lifeline of the community to the outside world, now a stark reminder that ageing is not only a human condition. She sits majestically on land, giving in slowly to the ravages of age. In another image, Chute frames a seaside cemetery with windswept coconut fronds, against the (blue) hue of dusk, throwing off eerie vibes. Some may find Demon Town ‘noir’, but it speaks of the red thread that connects all humans: we will all die one day. Others still may have been drawn to the ominous body of ocean behind it, the threat of sea level rising, omnipresent.  

The Crab Hunter drives home the many roles’ women play in our island communities. She is barefoot, ankle deep in mud with a machete in her right hand and a long stick in the other. The full body shot capturing her fashionista edge – a turban, a knee-length blouse, tamed by a belt into a gathering around her waist; the culottes hold the ensemble together. She stands in front of healthy mangroves, slightly frowning.

The Fair Star underlined for me the ticking clock of nature as we know it. How much longer can our inner forests and waterways survive our planet’s slow burn. My Malaita wantok in this photograph is lost in his own world, surrounded by white lilies. He’s folded himself into his tiny dugout, the Fair Star, somehow maintaining his balance to reach home with his cargo.

The appreciation for art is subjective. A collection that impacts the way you see life, one that you can see yourself in, one that changes your attitude to certain things – these are usually worth going to. And this exhibition, is one of those.

Real Pacific exhibition

Exhibition: The #realpacific: Photographs from Oceania

Where: Gallery of Oceanian Art, University of the South Pacific Laucala Campus, Suva

Closes: March 23

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