Mamalu (When I look at the world)
John Pule’s Mamalu (When I look at the world) is one of a few contemporary pieces at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne that made me stop, look closer, and then think, “I have to blog this one.”
Pule (born 1962) is from Niue, a South Pacific island country to the northeast of New Zealand. He moved to New Zealand when he was three, but still stays closely connected with Niue and identifies strongly with his heritage there.
As a painter, poet, and novelist, Pule returns often to the themes of migration and colonization.
In this painting clouds of blood red, appearing as open wounds, give way to flowering vines. The imagery is distinctively Polynesian: in Niuean culture, human life began from the vines of the ti mata alea. The vines pass dozens of native and universal symbols before drilling into the ground below.
In Mamalu (When I look at the world), the vines – or veins – pour down like blood and feed the horizon below with life; but judging by the still-open wounds in the sky, something precious has been cut open to make this process happen.
The world above is ominous and violent. The land finds its life first in death.
That conflict, and the artist who depicts it, made me think of colonization, which turns even the most well-nourished land into a commodity. It leaves the natural order floating aimlessly, and makes native people search for some sort of root to hold onto, usually to no avail.
For people forced to migrate or whose land is stolen from them, the one thing that connects them to the world, that keeps us all connected, has been taken from them and stripped bare. The land is home, and nothing can ever replace it.