Mar 4, 2016 Art
Marama is a deeply beautiful sight, like looking at a dense oil painting of an untouched landscape. Brushstrokes of light journey through mist and darkness, highlighting foliage and undergrowth. A spider shuffles across our stage. We are in a natural wonderland, deep in an untouched jungle. Soon five women emerge, at home in this domain.
These are marama, high-born women, ambassadors from across the Pacific. The performers hail from the Solomon Islands (Malaita and Makira), Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, and Aotearoa. The land and the people are profoundly connected, breathing as one. We get to feast on the imagery. A bird turns into a woman. Conch Theatre weave magic into this space.
Like flowers on a lei, we see snippets of performances of culture and belonging. It is a very Pacific way of storytelling, offering the parts that make up the whole picture. We experience ritual, waiata and dance.
Inspired by Conch Artistic Director Nina Nawalowalo’s work in the Solomon Islands, Marama explores the deforestation of islands across the Pacific, and the inevitable cultural loss. The music, which switches between the traditional and a heavy filmic score, keeps trying to tell us something is about to go wrong. The ritualistic action has a distancing, soporific effect. It’s not till the end of the hour, when the environment radically changes that we are jolted forward in our seats. The earth cracks open. Waiata battles vainly against the onslaught of heavy machinery.
Politically, it is easy to agree with the message of this work: yes, deforestation is bad. It is devastating for indigenous cultures. But what else to say? Most of the attention is on the time before, and we barely get to feel the effects once it has happened. There is resonance, but not yet enough complexity. Who is behind the exploitation? How should we respond? In an interview in Metro’s March issue, Nawalowalo spoke about the women who are drafted into illegal sex work in logging camps, but these aspects do not read clearly, lost amongst the spectacle.
The performance is consciously stylised and symbolic, but in doing so, it masks this type of reality. We are in a land of myth and fantasy. I felt like a tourist, witnessing displays of indigenous cultures, without much sense of how the contemporary communities negotiate these environmental issues. This is a great show in a festival context, bold and visually lush, with breath-taking design work from the creative team. Nawalowalo describes the work as an “urgent call for a sense of shared humanity”. In sharing the same landscape, the marama show that when one hurts, we all hurt. But in presenting a Pan-pacific image there is also a danger in representing an exoticised space, where individual cultural identity is absorbed into the whole. In showing the unity, sometimes we miss the differentiation. It is a broad brush to a social and economic issue that muddles more than it informs.
Marama, Q Theatre, until March 6