Political crises and social upheavals galvanise artists to give vision and voice to people’s concerns. In Melanesia, as elsewhere, art is an active agency that draws attention to issues of human rights and assists people to make sense of complex experiences.

This seminar will focus on recent artworks that relay potent political and social visions from the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Fiji, Bougainville and elsewhere in Melanesia. Political turmoil is a dynamic force driving the emergence of contemporary art movements in Pacific countries.

For example, in Fiji in 2000, the coup d’état led by George Speight galvanised a loose group of indigenous Fijian artists at the Centre for Oceanic Arts and Culture into forming the Red Wave Collective. It shocked the artists into a higher state of consciousness and perception, so that the body of intense works from that period acts as a potent manifesto of their beliefs about human rights and racism in politics. Susan will share her insights on the symbiotic dynamics of politics and art in this engaging presentation.

Susan Cochrane is a cultural historian who has published extensively on contemporary art in Melanesia and worked collaboratively with artists and cultural institutions on exhibitions and art events.

Her publications include monographs Contemporary Art from Papua New Guinea (1997), Bérétara: Contemporary Pacific Art in English and French editions (2001), Art and Life in Melanesia (2007), edited volumes Aboriginal Art Collections: Highlights from Australian Museums and Art Galleries (2001) and with Max Quanchi Hunting the Collectors: Pacific Collections in Australian Museums, Art Galleries and Archives.

Her work has been recognised by the awards of the University of Queensland Postdoctoral Fellowship for Women in 2005, a National Museum of Australia Fellowship in 2007 and a Harold White Fellowship from the National Library of Australia for 2008.

The seminars are free, and all academics, staff, students, and interested persons are welcome.