Issue 8, May 2020


4A Papers Issue 8, May 2020 – Wansolwara: One Salt Water

In the Solomon Islands, the pidgin word ‘wansolwara’ describes the concept of ‘one ocean, one people’, encapsulating the idea of a single connected waterscape that contains within it distinct and diverse knowledge systems and practices. As Mikala Tai describes in the exhibition notes for Wansolwara: One Salt Water, ‘The ocean is our greatest connector; a dynamic living force that traverses the globe with no consideration for borders, delineations and divisions. Rather than a means of separation, the ocean is respected as our greatest nexus that connects us all”.

Wansolwara was conceived as an opportunity for 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and UNSW Galleries to work collaboratively on an exhibition project that would emphasise this idea of connectivity and deepen understandings of complex Indigenous life today. Driving the project was an interest in how relations formed between artists within the world and in the process of exhibition-making can shift ideas of the Pacific from a geographical region to one of networks and exchange. The project, which combined exhibitions, conversations, performance and writing, provided an open framework for assembling different creative practices that elucidate the complex and multifaceted knowledge systems of First Nations communities globally. Across both institutions and through its associated programming and events, the project brought together more than 30 artists, writers, performers and filmmakers connected by the Great Ocean.

Grounding this rationale was O le ūa na fua mai Manuʻa, a curatorial project by Dr Léuli Eshrāghi at UNSW Galleries that brought together ten artists and filmmakers from different intellectual and material First Nation territories who use moving image to embody and awaken Indigenous sensual and spoken languages. It featured asinnajaq, Sarah Biscarra Dilley, Sebastián Calfuqueo Aliste, Mariquita Davis, Amrita Hepi, Caroline Monnet, Faye Mullen, Shannon Te Ao, Angela Tiatia and Gutiŋarra Yunupiŋu. Accompanying this project were focussed presentations of works by Terry Faleona, Rebecca Ann Hobbs, Paula Schaafhausen and Vaimaila Urale at 4A, and Shivanjani Lal and Ruha Fifita with family and friends at UNSW Galleries. Together, these projects trace connections to the region through language, tradition, dance and ceremony, as well as demonstrating the critical role of customary practices and contemporary forms in culture, ceremony and community life shared throughout the Pacific.

Alongside the exhibitions, early-career writers Mitiana Arbon, Winnie Siulolovao Dunn, Enoch Mailangi and Talia Smith produced new writing and led programming to build on ideas explored throughout the exhibited works. They brought to the project a wide range of approaches to the framing of Pacific and First Nation people and cultural heritage in the fields of indigenous studies, community arts, literature, television and curating. The writers facilitated conversations held as part of the Wansolwara Symposium on the opening weekend. This event saw each writer convene panel discussions and responses with exhibiting artists and guest speakers and help tease out the connectivity of communities and cultures represented in the project, including shared histories of displacement, environmental change, cultural activism in the face of colonisation and the creation of new cultural phenomena. Their critical responses are shared here in 4A Papers and also appear as a roundtable discussion published in Art Monthly Australasia.

–      José Da Silva, Director, UNSW Galleries, and Curator, with Dr Mikala Tai, of Wansolwara: One Salt Water.


In this issue of 4A Papers, participants of the Wansolwara Writers Program share their critical responses under the following five perspectivesNOW, THEN, MAKE, TALK, SEE.

In Running on Island TimeWinnie Siulolovao Dunn lets it be known that ‘Island time is NOW’. Rob Henningham looks back THEN to the Wansolwara Symposium and summarises the discussions that ground much of this 4A Papers issue. Dr Léuli Eshrāghi discusses what it means to MAKE projects, exhibitions, scholarship, networks, friendship and community, and how ‘networks of migration, trade and exchange engendered in both deep time and every day, place and travel became and remain integral to contemporary Indigenous experiences’. Enoch Mailangi TALKs with Wendy Mocke, founder of Melanin Haus in Cairns and artist/curator of the exhibition and photo series M E R I, who offers insights into the challenges facing Papua New Guinean women. Considering the exhibition, associated texts and a wider discourse, Mitiana Arbon SEEs ‘the importance of continuing to develop a body of writing that materialises our own critical perspectives grounded in our own histories’; while in Salt/Tears/Water Talia Smith also SEEs how artists of colour are reclaiming the camera through the telling of stories, of colonial forces and of prior histories.

Wansolwara: One Salt Water was presented on the land of the Bidjigal and Gadigal peoples of the Eora nation by 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in partnership with UNSW Galleries, and supported by Art Monthly Australasia, FBi Radio and Sydney Festival. 4A and UNSW Galleries thank all the writers, artists, curators, speakers, filmmakers, performers and the wide array of other creatives who came together to make Wansolwara happen. The Wansolwara Writers Program has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

This issue of 4A Papers has been made possible with the assistance of Susan Acret, who has acted as Managing Editor. Susan is a 4A Board Director, editor and writer based in Sydney.

Editorial Note: While 4A Papers usually follows a style that italicises non- English words, it has been agreed by all authors and 4A that no italicisation will appear in these instances in this collection of essays.

Running on Island Time

Winnie Siulolovao Dunn ‘Soz. Island time.’ This is what I text one...

Read more

Wansolwara Symposium

Robert Henningham Presented in partnership with UNSW Galleries and 4A Centre for...

Read more

Indigenous artist-curator relationships in the militourist present

 Dr Léuli Eshrāghi The following text is an abridged version of a...

Read more

The Hybrid Phenomena of Identity and Representation: Kicking Back with Wendy Mocke

Enoch Mailangi Throughout this 4A Paper, Wendy Mocke has offered a stimulus...

Read more

Stones rot, words don’t

Mitiana Arbon   Writing and thinking these lines in English, a language...

Read more


Talia Smith   I. Salt As a child I loved to pull...

Read more