This talk examines connections between two cultural revival efforts in Oceania (the Pacific Islands region): the renaissance of indigenous seafaring vessels and navigation technologies, and the development of local forms of modern theatrical expression. The resurgence of vaka moana (ocean-going canoes) has nurtured national pride and regional affiliations in the Pacific. The performing arts have also contributed to that discourse, transmitting, challenging, and imaginatively elaborating information and attitudes. Focusing on a range of case studies, including expeditions by reconstructed vessels, festivals, stage spectacles, performative art installations, and the Disney film Moana (2016), this lecture explores how artists and activists have embarked on real and imagined voyages to pursue questions of identity, autonomy, attachment, and agency in the Pacific. Diana Looser shows how theatricalized versions of Pacific voyaging offer insights into tensions between models of regional identity and local sovereignty, navigate relationships between pre-colonial inter-island mobility and modern migrancy, treat representations of gender in voyaging scenarios, and probe concerns about cultural appropriation and commercialization.
Diana Looser is from Aotearoa, New Zealand, and is Assistant Professor in the Department of Theater & Performance Studies at Stanford University. Her first book, Remaking Pacific Pasts: History, Memory, and Identity in Contemporary Theater from Oceania (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014), won the Rob Jordan Prize from the Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama & Performance Studies (ADSA). Her current book project, Moving Islands: Contemporary Performance and the Global Pacific, examines the international connections forged by artistic performances from Oceania in the first two decades of the twenty-first century. Looser is also working on a new project that explores the ethnographic and artistic interface between Western and indigenous representations of Oceania in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Part of the Performance Studies Research Group, a crossdisciplinary research cluster of the Simpson Center for the Humanities, organized by Scott Magelssen (School of Drama).