Poly Wants a Cracker (2002) is a provocative installation by Auckland-based artist Ioane (John) Ioane. Ostensibly a work that pokes fun at the idea of the Pacific as an erotic paradise for white males, behind the sexual bravado is a multi-faceted exploration of Polynesian and Palagi attitudes towards body image and sex.
The installation features nineteen peach-coloured dildos sourced from a sex store on Auckland’s Karangahape road. Hung along the gallery walls at eye height, each appendage is symbolically laid with a synthetic flower lei. At the rear of the installation is a silver coloured male mannequin. Standing like a trophy, he greets visitors with a ukulele in hand, synthetic grass skirt around his hips and a disconcertingly happy smile.
Ioane places these sexualised objects on display as both challenge and memorial. On one hand he presents the male body as an arousing commodity to be objectified, packaged and sold. Yet on the other, the dismembered appendages create a sense of unease, as if they have been lopped off and mounted like big game trophies.
For Ioane, the solemn state of these prosthetic penises recalls the thousands of mea sa, sacred male organs, that were cut off carved figures throughout Polynesia by early European missionaries. Seeking to civilise the Pacific through Christianity, missionaries taught Polynesian people to perceive the human body as a source of sin, something that should be covered to prevent temptation.
While the installation has a Polynesian theme, all the dildos are noticeably Caucasian in colouring and the ukulele-playing mannequin also appears to be Palagi. By placing the white male into this Polynesian aesthetic, Ioane turns the tables on stereotypes of the Pacific as an erotic paradise, thereby suggesting that such perceptions are possibly a manifestation of Western desires.
The title of the work alludes to what Ioane describes as fiapalagi attitudes: a desire to behave like Palagi to the detriment of one’s own culture. Combining the term ‘Poly’, meaning Polynesian, with ‘Cracker’, a racial slur for white males, Ioane dares to suggest that Pacific people may be attracted to Palagi or fiapalagi practices as a means of advancing themselves socially and economically.
In 2003 Ioane extended the issues raised in Poly Wants a Cracker in a work titled Tangaroa. Known by many names, including Tagaloa-lagi in Samoan, Tangaroa is a major Polynesian deity associated with the heavens and oceans. Tangaroa is the primordial progenitor of humanity in many Polynesian cultures and is consequently often female. In Māori cosmology however, Tangaroa is male. Playing with these gender variations, Ioane’s Tangaroa takes the form of a life-sized mannequin featuring both male and female genitalia. With engorged breasts and an ample penis, Tangaroa plays with the ambiguities around gender roles in the Pacific, further pressing Pacific communities to reconcile current attitudes and behaviours with historical traditions and values.
Ioane (John) Ioane gained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland in 1985 and a Diploma in Teaching from the Auckland College of Education in 1986. He held his first major solo exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in 1999. In 2009 Whangarei Art Museum presented John Ioane: Journeyman, Artist and the Pacific Paradox, the first major survey of Ioane’s work. Ioane has exhibited extensively in New Zealand and internationally and has works in major collections including those of the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, England; the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Nouméa, New Caledonia; the National University of Samoa; the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington; Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki; Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures, Wellington; the Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland and the University of Auckland Art Collection.
Opening Ceremony Friday 27 April, 6pm
Artists' Talk Saturday 28 April, 1pm Ioane Ioane in conversation with Curator Māori and Pacific Art Reuben Friend