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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Telling our Stories

I ran into an old friend a few weekends ago. We were both at the wonderful Fāgogo exhibition at the St Paul Street Gallery.

Pati Solomona Tyrell, the artist, has created something truly intriguing, evocative and beautiful. It's nearly over now, but if you can, go see it.It is worth your time.

The works by themselves are beautiful pieces of art, If this exhibition were in a dealer gallery there would be red stickers by them all. And in a wider context, the entire exhibition tells a story.

To put it simply, going by what I've read, Fāgogo is a form of story telling in Samoan culture that builds and holds community heritage and history. Stories told "in a shared context, with an expectation to share the story." He brings this alive in the biggest piece, projected on a wall with a running narrative.

The work is intimately tied into the Fafswag scene that is getting more attention, as we see different queer Pasifika voices make themselves heard.

It's that "expectation to share the story" that resonated with me. Pass the knowledge on.

But getting back to my friend, we hadn't seen each other in ages. We both talked of how we miss Urge as a venue, as a social space, somewhere to go and catch up with others. Nothing has replaced it for gay men. It's not the venue itself that we miss so much as the opportunity it gave to connect.

That opportunity to connect also gave us a chance to meet, to plan, and to share our stories. And that's harder to do now.

One standard way of defining a community is to look for shared understandings of religion or the spiritual world, shared understandings of what is sacred or profane, shared language, shared rules around food, shared dress codes, shared concepts of family and social order, and shared sense of mythical and actual history. Shared stories.Shared narratives.

These shared narratives help create community.

We in the LGBTTI+ world don't have many of these characteristics, and that's part of the weakness that lies with us as communities. We're thin communities, without many of those traits above to bind us.  We often come from such very different backgrounds that we don't have a lot in common, apart from being queer. And being queer in itself is not much of a basis to build lasting community.

But we do have our stories, our narratives, and they can bind us together to some degree.

We need to do more to tell our stories and to pass them down to future generations. We need to keep the knowledge alive - not to say that things will always be this way, but to let younger people coming up know that things were once this way, and that our past to some extent explains their present, and their present will to some extent explain others' futures.

If we forget where we came from how can we know where we're going or value where we are now?

So it is was great to see this video from the UK, of a 78 year old gay man talking to a 13 year old gay boy about how things have changed.

I would love to see more of this sort of thing happening here, and perhaps it's something that Pride can explore, telling our stories as part of the Festival.

Fāgogo is an inspiring model to look to. We don't have the cultural practices or community spaces to share our stories and pass them on this way,  but it would be great if we could find some way to do something like this.

But in the meantime, go see this exhibition if you're in Auckland. It's beautiful. It's art. And it's another thread in our stories.

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