WONY VEYS: “TO ME AWARENESS IS NOT A STAND-ALONE CONCEPT, BUT SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS IN RELATION TO SOMETHING ELSE. I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO REALISE THAT PEOPLE HAVE MULTIPLE SOMETIMES CONTRASTING IDENTITIES.”

Wonu Veys is a Belgian curator and researcher. She did an MA in art history and archaeology at Ghent University (Belgium) and another MA and PhD in anthropology focusing on material culture at the University of East Anglia, Norwich (UK). Working within an ethnographic museum context, she developed her museological experience in Cambridge, New York, Paris, Leiden and Amsterdam. Her research interests are Pacific art and material culture, museums and cultures of collecting, Pacific musical instruments, Pacific textiles, and the significance of historical objects in a contemporary setting. Through contemporary art and close collaboration, she believes that the presence of an indigenous Pacific voice can be increased.

 

WHAT DO YOU FIND INSPIRING IN FASHION, ART AND DESIGN?

I am fascinated by the way art, fashion and design can address issues at play in today’s society. They have the potential of being very dynamic while at the same time being rooted in time and place. Fashion, art and design are both individual and collective. They spring out of the mind and hands of usually one person, but for the creative processes to be successful, this individual needs to be a full part of a community.

 

CAN YOU TELL US THREE DESIGNERS THAT YOU FIND INSPIRING?

There are a number of Pacific artists I find very interesting for the way they engage with their ancestors’ heritage. One of them is them is Shona Tawhiao (pronounce Taa-fee-aa-o), a New Zealand Māori fibre artist and designer. She works in different realms including the art gallery, theatre and television sets, but also the catwalk as her recent show in New York demonstrates. Most importantly, she has brought Māori flax (Phormium tenax) weaving to the forefront in a world dominated by loom-woven textiles.

 

Another artist, who has a close affinity with fashion, design and performance is Shigeyuki Kihara. Of Samoan and Japanese descent, Kihara often uses the dressed and undressed body as a focal point to discuss issues of gender, identity, the colonial gaze and contemporary racism. I particularly like Fa’afafine: In the Manner of a Woman (2005), which speaks of Kihara’s own identity and position as a Samoan and a fa‘afafine (often translated as ‘third gender’), but I also enjoyed some of her latest work I saw in the Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery in New Zealand entitled ‘A Study of a Samoan Savage’.

 

I love Lisa Reihana’s engagement with museum collections and their histories. Of Ngāpuhi, Ngati Hine, Ngāi Tu (New Zealand Māori) descent, she often uses digital photography and installations to re-examine colonial history in ways that relate to Pacific communities today. Even though her work is clearly rooted in the Pacific, it translates easily to other spaces. Her latest work In pursuit of Venus [infected] has been selected to represent New Zealand in the Venice Biennale in 2017. It is a 26 metre long panoramic 32 minute video (https://vimeo.com/122495446) of the 1804 Joseph Dufour wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique in which Lisa Reihana has reanimated the wallpaper with Polynesian people. The initial version I saw in Museum van Loon in Amsterdam in 2013 was just entrancing .

 

WHAT DO YOU FIND BOTHERING ABOUT THE FASHION, ART AND DESIGN INDUSTRY?

As a spectator to the fashion, art and design industry I sometimes have difficulties relating to the work because the issues addressed seem so personal they fail to speak to me.

 

NAME THREE COUNTRIES YOU THINK WERE MOST SPECIAL TO TRAVEL TO AND WHY?

Finland has so far been the only place where people were genuinely surprised to hear I was not Finnish and did not speak Finnish. I found that really refreshing, because when I am in a mainly white environment people often don’t consider the possibility that I might actually belong to that place. Of course Finland has beautiful lakes and seaside, a rich design tradition and a really interesting history as a Baltic nation caught between Russia and Sweden. Coming from Belgium, it gave me a very different perspective on European political and cultural dynamics.

 

I know Hawai‘i is strictly speaking not a country, but America’s fiftieth state which was annexed as an American territory in 1898 against the will of the people. The Hawaiian archipelago is a special place. When you leave the touristic parts of Waikiki beach and venture into the interior of ‘Oahu or out to islands such as Maui, Molokai‘i and Hawai‘i you discover totally different worlds where Japanese, Philippino, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and native Hawaiian cultures meet or live side by side. I always feel very much at home in Hawai‘i and this is not just because of the mild weather!

 

Another country I have enjoyed travelling to is Canada. The country is huge. It always comes as a surprise to me that after hours of driving through forested or mountainous areas, all of a sudden a town complete with shops, museums and art galleries appears out of nothing. Having grown up bilingual (Dutch and French), I also like cities like Montréal where the English and French languages are cohabiting. Monolingual societies make me somehow feel claustrophobic.

 

THE FASHION FEST IS ABOUT CREATING AWARENESS. WHAT DOES AWARENESS MEAN TO YOU?

To me awareness is not a stand-alone concept, but something that happens in relation to something else. I think it is important to realise that people have multiple sometimes contrasting identities. Awareness about the existence of these different layers of being in the world could be increased.

 

WITH THIS BLOG WE WANT TO CREATE AWARENESS AROUND TOPICS LIKE GENDER, IDENTITY AND DIVERSITY. DO YOU TAKE THESE TOPICS IN ACCOUNT IN YOUR WORK, IF SO CAN YOU TELL US HOW?

In exhibitions and academic writing I try to adhere to the principle of multi-vocality. This means I like to steer away from monolithic definitions, but endeavour to look at things from multiple vantage points in an effort to offer a nuanced perspective on topics. My research has so far been most concerned with gender, which perhaps transpires in my choice of artists in the section above.

 

DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY AND GLOBALIZATION ENSURE THAT THE CREATIVE SECTOR IS SUBJECT TO STRONG CHANGES. WHAT DO YOU THINK THESE CHANGES WILL LOOK LIKE?

The whole world is subject to strong changes, some of which are instigated by globalization and digital technology. Changes, however, have always been part of living in this world. The speed at which these changes are happening might be different. In the same way as people from different communities or societies are seeking ways to incorporate changes, the creative industry as a full part of society has the responsibility of doing the same.

 

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT IN LIFE?

I think most things that I do are informed by the idea of freedom. Freedom in the sense that I try to live my life the way I choose without anyone making choices for me and of course without harming the freedom of others.

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