In the wake of Paul Gauguin’s artistic practice, this essay interrogates the work of contemporary visual practitioners who have sought to challenge the legacy of colonial modes of framing through performative engagements with notions of the artistic journey and issues of landscape. A photographic series by Guy Tillim, a film collaboration by Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer, a painting by Michael Armitage, and a video work by Tiare Ribeaux point to the possibilities for engaging with the un-seeability and un-sayability of landscape through visual culture. Proposing critical interpretations of the significance of landscape as genre, these four bodies of work allow for conversations around the postcolonial effectivity of specific media, as well as the contradictory subject positions inherent to interactions premised upon conceptions of “return.”
The works, titled Second Nature (2010–11), Why Are You Angry? (2017), Paradise Edict (2019), and Ulu Kupu (2022) respectively, offer methods for approaching and critiquing complex and problematic transnational engagements, as well as foregrounding the need for Pan-Oceanic approaches. In line with the theorizations of Epeli Hau’ofa, who argues that Oceanic identity should take a regional form, defined by movements and proximity within the expansive Pacific Ocean, these artists attempt to visualize the complexities of conveying a place as simultaneously lived and imagined. In particular, the projects reckon with the difficulty of engaging with the familiar tropisms that define tropical spaces within the cultural imaginary and attempt to offer heterochronic modes of showing and circulating issues of geographical, botanical, and cultural heritage.