"Artists as eco-social change makers" – Lila Meleisea shares how her artistic practice weaves together her Samoan heritage and passion for activism. Published in Chain Reaction #141.
It’s taken me a while to figure out how to weave my two island cultures together with some kind of harmony and continuity (46 years to be exact), but, with the myriad of climate and social justice issues that have grown over the years and the current trajectory of our future earth, my path and purpose as Tasmanian Samoan (artist, mother, friend, educator) has become quite clear. Deforestation in Tasmania; Australia as one of the highest fossil fuel producers; rising sea levels creating an existential crisis in the Pacific! Tasmania and Samoa are both home for me. And both environments are suffering.
Art for social change. Art for transformation. Art for education. Art for healing.
The time for this is now. Through my work I’m interested in sharing the knowledge, stories and songs of my Samoan and Pacific family and ancestors, creating another platform for the voices and presence of First Nations people to be heard and seen, and walking alongside my Palawa brothers, sisters, uncles and aunties here in Tasmania as I do so. I’m interested in creating work and dialogue that moves colonised thinkers and doers towards a curiosity and connection to their own indigeneity, and to encourage a rebalance of relationship within themselves, towards others and with the earth, ocean and cosmos because I believe that this is perhaps the deep healing that humanity needs, to literally save itself.
Many answers lie in the unbroken traditions and wisdom teachings of First Nations people who have maintained harmony and balance upon the earth and oceans for millennia where interconnection and reciprocity between all things is the order of life. The concept of ‘we are one’ is far from new-age-woo-woo talk. It’s the truth. Today, we too have a role to play and must take personal responsibility for maintaining balance.
We should also look towards many of the youth of today who are leading by example and speaking out. They are passionate, educated, driven, angry, insightful and are motivated to act, and offer many answers. I look towards these young emerging leaders for hope, inspiration, fresh and real perspectives. Both youth and First Nations representatives must have a seat at every decision making table where their voices, concerns, and ideas are equally part of the dialogue and can play an key role in solutions moving forward.
As an interdisciplinary artist the environment has played a big part. My practice has involved spending time in nature, being in wild landscapes, listening deeply, doing field recordings of both flora and fauna, making ‘sound sketches’, composing and improvising soundscapes weaving together field recordings and real instruments (like bells, gongs, African harp, drums, Greenwood leather horns).
I also create what I call resonance maps. I love the process and creation of resonance maps as it is my way of learning about and immersing myself into a landscape. It also feels like a meditation, from the field work to the studio work. Deep focus. Nothing but now. The symbols I use are both existing and invented, and connect to what I learn, know and feel of the landscape. I always include Samoan and elemental symbols. Composed into the mandala form, these symbols come together expressing community and unity. It tells the story of the place in focus, it reflects the relationship between place and artist. Used for meditation, it is another opportunity to help us see the interconnectedness of all things. Furthermore, I have also used resonance maps as graphic scores to be played by musicians – interpreted, led, improvised, composed, solo, or ensemble – the options are endless and fascinating. And so it is, that the energy of the place I have immersed myself in, through the frequencies of light, sound and also intention, continues to resonate and live on.
Resonance Map: Winifred Curtis Reserve is Meleisea’s resonance mapping of a small reserve near the north east coastal town of Scamander, named after esteemed Tasmanian based botanist Winifred Curtis. 75 circles are used to represent the area in hectares of the reserve, and the 300 flower and 80 bird symbols represent the estimated species of flora and fauna found within this landscape. One can also find particular animals, alchemical, and Polynesian symbols that help the artist deepen her personal and spiritual relationship and connection with the landscape. Observing the circular form as a whole can be used as a meditation on the relationship between atom and cosmos, or, ‘as above, so below’.
I like to create an immersive experience for viewers using sound and light. As a musician the tapestry usually includes a live sound element too. I’m also interested in creating a physical and psychological space where people to feel safe, held and nurtured. A timeless space. A contemplative space, to move towards inner stillness and peace. My aim is for audiences to leave transformed in some way, and just as importantly, inspired into action by the experience and information they have just received (implicitly or explicitly) – so they can practically move themselves towards, and into, greater physical, relational and spiritual balance in the world.
So stepping up and stepping out as a creative who proudly calls herself Tasmanian Samoan feels good right now.
I do believe that in this current time of environmental and existential human crisis there is much work and effort for us all to come to terms with and DO as a collective and individuals, and art in this space is certainly the tool I will continue to use as a vehicle to activate real and positive change.
Lila Meleisea is based in Beaumaris on the north east coast of Tasmania- lutruwita.
Her work is informed by: Meditation; First Nations ritual and ceremony; Samoan and Polynesian symbology; the use and philosophy of mandalas; climate justice; and the use sound and light for healing.