Long Beach's Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum (PIEAM) is the only museum in the contiguous United States with a mission is to amplify the collective wisdom of the people of Oceania. The current “Carrying the Pacific” exhibit is the first of its kind, centering on Pacific Islanders’ birthing traditions, experiences and voices.
Visitors have the opportunity to view works by Pacific Islander contemporary artists Roldy Aguero, Micki Davis, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Jason (JP) Periera, Samantha Winter Tagaloa, Lilo Tauvae and Roquin-Jon Quichocho Siongco. Ethnographic art from PIEAM’s permanent collection is interwoven to highlight connections with Pacific Islanders’ ancestors.
The exhibit also includes the film "Vanuatu Women’s Water Music," which is simply joyous, a celebration of life, shot on the island. As explained by Fran LuJan, PIEAM’s Museum Director and Curator, “with over 115 languages throughout 80 islands, people may not share a language, but they share the ability to communicate with music.”
Stevie Merino, guest co-curator, born and raised in Long Beach, with ancestral homelands in Guam and Puerto Rico, shares about the exhibit, “we are people with very real and unique legacies, traditions, cultures, and needs.” Merino presents at academic conferences, centering the experience and voices of Pacific Islanders that are often left out of these spaces.
"Some objects were created by local artists, part of the diaspora, and some are pieces from the islands, which is a blessing,” Lujan said, “ as preservation is not a tradition. Many items, which we view as art, are functional, and are returned to the earth or the sea when no longer in use.”
The show is divided into identity, creation and loss, with weaving as a theme throughout each section. Tagaolo, an artist of Samoan descent, created a floor-to-ceiling weaving, strips of painted canvas with words, deconstructing and constructing meaning. A birch bark cloth wedding dress, situated outside the traditional community structure, is ornamented with delicate shells and produced with traditional colors of black, brown and white, sourced from ash, seeds, seashells and other natural products.
Taulapapa, poet and artist, presented a weaving combined with embroidery, a raveling and unraveling of a traditional scene. Pereira, known as JP, artist-in-residence, created an installation which includes site-specific paintings and objects, and a decorated carpet containing a narration.
“We hope this exhibit will provide potential pathways and prompt further sharing of stories, while ultimately highlighting the need to improve birth disparities and representation for our community,” Lujan said.
"Carrying the Pacific: Pregnancy, Birth and Parenthood" runs through Dec. 31 at the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum, i695 Alamitos Ave. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. For more, call 562-216-4170 or go to www.pieam.org. Admission is free for PIEAM Members, $5 General; $3 Students with ID and Seniors, and free for children younger than 12. Parking is free.