Samoan New Zealand artist awarded $40,000 artist's residency
New Zealand-born Samoan photographer Greg Semu awarded Creative New Zealand artist residency in Berlin.
A Samoan New Zealand artist has been awarded an artist's residency in Berlin, where he plans to research the history of German Samoa and what he calls the 'colonial encounter'.
Greg Semu's Creative New Zealand residency includes the rental of an apartment in Berlin, a stipend of 40,000 dollars and travel costs.
Mr Semu, who is currently Australian-based, says the opportunity came as a huge surprise as he has been applying for the residency for over a decade.
He spoke to Amelia Langford about his plans to research Samoa's history as a German colony before it was annexed by New Zealand at the beginning of World War One.
GREG SEMU: There is a long history there which is not known much about and this was the first battle that was successful for the allies, so Germany withdrew peacefully and voluntarily, but it was still counted as a successful result for New Zealand and it was turned over to the NZ government on behalf of the British colonies, of course. So, I am really interesting in the history prior to that because it would have been a parallel universe you know. But also what we are really interested in is collating and mining the archives that Germany had collected during that period. It wasn't a long period but nonetheless it was one where they had giant archives, museums, galleries and institutions and getting access and researching them is a huge event in itself. And then I will be able to respond and share artworks - that is kind of the goal. But I would say 80 percent of the residency will be spent on research.
AMELIA LANGFORD: Your heritage as a New Zealand Samoan, how much does that have an impact on your work?
GS: I would say it would be a founding block because of personal experiences. I would say cultural identity is so important but if you develop it to a level where you actually become exclusive you create barriers. So, you know, with these travelling residencies, I have tried to look for the common theme and I think displacement is the common theme amongst all Pacific islands. You know, Americas and the Africas and even Europe, it's like displacement is universal and it changes the course of history. I am also interested in the mythologies that colonial historians have created, which is the work that I am designing, we are responding to this colonial history to try and shift the paradigm of colonialism within ourselves and try and imagine a different future. I really feel that art is a wonderful medium to help shift the paradigm.
AL: And do you travel to Samoa much?
GS: I haven't been able to build that relationship growing up as a youth I was always reminded that i was not really from here, even though I was born and raised and in my experiences of returning to Samoa, it was clearly obvious that I'm not really from there aswell so for me Samoa is my spiritual home - it is something that is not tangible - i mean, it is tangible, but it's evolved into a concept or idea, it's my spiritual home.
AL: You have got some absolutely stunning shots, they are beautiful and glossy. But also slightly confrontational. Would you agree with that?
GS: Yes, they are deliberately provocative and I am interested in creating a conversation. So, the residue of cultural displacement and geographical displacement is really deeply entrenched. For a long time in my early works I was making the work from resentment and anger and now it is more intellectual. I am more interested in finding out - having this conversation and finding the solution as to what direction do you want to go to as opposed to playing the victim and pointing the finger as to whose to blame.
AL: Now, it's taking you 10 years to get this residency. It is a hard road at times to be an artist. What would you say to young artists thinking about pursuing this path - especially in the Pacific?
GS: Well, I think it is pretty obvious. It is like your art medium and your art practice will speak to you, it will be a loud voice. So, if it is strong enough it will talk to you and guide you and you don't have a choice but to follow that path. That has been my personal experience anyway. I have tried to shift to a 9-5 job and take on a more material lifestyle choice and I just keep coming back to the art. So, again I think nurture that voice that speaks to you but also build relationships and partnerships with other creatives and practitioners. I am a photographer. How many photographs can you take before your audience becomes quite overwhelmed with photos of yourself. So, as a photographer I need actors, performers, dancers so it is a collective effort so building relationships not only with yourself as an artist and your ideas and concepts but also with your collective personality. But nonetheless, that's the first step forward - is the work. And don't get scared or overwhelmed, its baby steps. It's constantly a baby step adventure. We are aiming for longevity in the arts world.
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