During the first phase of our constitutional crisis last year, when the main issue was whether we had one or two prime ministers, I had proposed that we wear white shirts to show our protest of the political impasse. This later influenced the performance art of “Journey Through the Stain’s” work “Quarter to Twelve“. It was therefore interesting to come across the ‘White Flags‘ installation in the US when I was there recently.
Artist Aaron Fein’s ‘White Flags’ were inspired by the September 11 attacks and revolved around the idea of what our flags would look like if they all faded away over time to white. I imagine that along with the uniform whiteness, would come the question of whether we are all really the same internally despite the exterior differences.
Aaron Feins work seems to have also inspired another performance art project, called White Soldier. In the same vein of analysing the core values of who we are against the stark differences of countries at war with each other, artist Yudu Braun uses his art to look at the tensions between Jews and Arabs. As he describes it, “The mundane presence of the soldier, when whitened, surfaces the emotional-national complexity of the intense daily life led by people on both sides of the border. Performing among bystanders in the streets confronts them with the harsh absurdity of a violent reality in a manner which cannot be ignored, hence forcing the viewers to re-evaluate their relations with their convoluted surroundings.”
High concept art, can be thought provoking but one can feel disengaged if there is no personal attachment to the subject of the art. We may not fully understand what it’s like to live in the tensions of the Gaza Strip nor may we fully understand the horrors of the September 11 attacks. Therefore some room for personal interpretation of the art becomes apparent, especially for myself being from the South Pacific.
So what drew me further into the art of ‘White Flags’ ended up being the simple act of my close family friends Lise and Ira donating a PNG flag to the White Flags installation. As Lise explained to me yesterday, they donated the flag to the project to honor the memory of my uncle Bernard Narokobi, who she described as being deeply committed to reaching across borders to enrich our common humanity.
As I looked at the flag, I could not help but feel as though whitening the flag drained out all the life (both good and bad) of what PNG is. So to me the white flag became more of a compelling question of what it means to be a country and what we want to do with this country. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also feel the weight of what my uncle contributed to the birth of PNG and so I have to ask, where are we going?
When we’ve stripped back all the smoke and mirrors and fun and games, at the end of the day, what are we really about in PNG and where do we want to go as a nation?