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Parallel Journeys
Exhibition. Lauraine Diggins Fine Art. 2002.


Traudi Allen
Writer & Art Historian

Washed-up on Mike Green's pristine,
intentionally cliched, tropical island
shores are reminiscences that relate to
both sides of the Colonial/Postcolonial debate. Images
are threaded by recondite, part-remembered, part-
imagined strands that connect both to an Anglo heroic
and to an indigenous Pacific past. These are known
firstly genetically, passed-down from Green's great-
grandfather who was appointed the first British Vice-
Consul of Tonga in 1862, and his grandmother, the
Tongan wife of the Vice-Consul's son.

In genealogical study Green discovered heroic tales
of struggle at sea on the part of his great-uncles. These
journeys involved extraordinary bravery, when all was
set at risk in the interests of the doing, of the
conquering, of surviving every possible hardship, of
the being there. Green argues that though this is an
attitude now regarded absurd it is to some degree worthy
of greater respect than the meagre dreams and realities
that characterise comfortable Anglo middle-class.

Green thus challenges the style of the discourse,
which he suggests, does not serve understanding as
well as it promises. With its universality, inflexibility
and easy good/bad intonations, he suggests it too is
flawed, just as the outdated cultural platitudes that
signify the Pacific are: the footprints in the sand, the
tranquil tropical-island waters, the civilising missionary
zeal, the simple-minded native - all long consigned to
the humorous waste-paper basket of Empire. Green s

'Boy's Own' illustrations are represented ironically by
finely painted figurative watercolours, fifty of which
are hung together in a monumental assemblage, while
other more detailed works are shown individually.

Green's painted genealogical journey was
experienced for the most part imaginatively as he read
old family letters transcribed into type by antecedents.
These fragmentary incidents and fleeting emotions, 
that can only be grasped at, are denoted visually by
selected phrases that are pasted randomly onto an
armature surrounding the watercolour assemblage.
Significant events from generations are evocatively
highlighted by the use of such phrases as, [in Tongan]
'fakamo' omi no fonua ni oku ai fakataha moe tohi ni';

and [in translation] 'for himself, his heirs, and his
successors, all that parcel of land - (lease) comprised in
and demised...'

Along with the 19th century adventurer go
sexual transgressions that the successor must
accommodate with his own sense of self. In order to
explain these behaviours he places them in their own
time when such mores were considered 'natural' and
in keeping with the explorer persona. Shredded paper
is stained and interlaced like chromosomal chains that
agglomerate and wash through the bloodstream. Green
found himself weaving and plaiting, only later
recognising this activity as a contemporary version of
indigenous pandanus work.

Contemporary interpolations and materials are used
to refer to the dark skeletons that are plaited into his
psyche and into his art in such a way as to mimic the
sombre tones of spiralling tapa decorations, traditionally
made on the inner bark of the mulberry bush'.
Similarly, elements of the past are textured into his
narrative, as in traditional Tongan ceremonial
pandanus mats.

Green uses a skeletal hand as a symbolic refrain on
the genetic DNA that relates him to his ancestors. At
the same time it reaches back into history signifying

claims upon land. Here, situated on the explorer's
isolated beach, it also reaches out for explanation.
Surrounding this reconstructed history, the aged
armature, sometimes consisting of frames within frames,
bears the marks of experience and time, and serves to
re-frame the family narrative.

Photographic images are revivified by being
sculpted in balsa wood, the material chosen because it
is the stuff of boats which are so crucial to indigenous
Pacific people, and to the artist's story of discovery.
These models are then wrapped in tissue after the
Tongan custom of swathing corpses in tapa2. Green
then coats these figures with paint. Some of his models
are contracted back to the two-dimensional form after
being given a fleeting three-dimensional existence but
still appear as models in his paintings. In these
incarnations they are scarcely recognisable as family
members, appearing only vaguely human in order to
emphasise the alien nature of the interaction between
the two cultures.

Which bits are me? Green inevitably asks, as flecks
of white and fragments of brown rise to the present.
These parts of cells that cannot be isolated or defined
in racial terms, inchoate memories that are neither
pure nor complete, are expressed in a part abstract,
part figurative fashion. Through this methodology
Green attempts to blur the standard presentation of
the colonial/post-colonial and black/white discourses
in precise oppositional ways.3 A binary approach is
particularly unhelpful in the Tongan case given the
existence of many white groups in its genealogy. The
Dutch explorers Jacob Le Maire and Abel Tasman
arrived there in 1616 and 1643 respectively, Captain
Cook arrived in 17734, it became a British protectorate
in 1900 and yet it retained its own monarchy. Each
white group had its own motivation: 'The traders were
seeking profit, the settlers were seeking land, the
missionaries were seeking converts'3. Confounding a
black stereotype was civil war in the Friendly Island6.

In a postcolonial era in which regret and sorrow for
old crimes is at the forefront of consideration, Green
suggests understanding might be granted the
perpetrators. His position is not to excuse past injustice
but to encapsulate historical perspectives. As he puts
it,' My aim is to lift the discussion beyond blame so as
to halt the tendency towards hegemony in any form'7.

In 2001 Green 'discovered ' Tonga.for himself and
located the grave of his great-grand father. To the
dreamlike and imaginative qualities already extant in
his work were added interpretations of direct
observation. He found his attempts to comprehend
his past were themselves romantically coloured. He
found a place even further removed from the tourist-
styled image than he had imagined. His brown/white
plaiting was reworked to include the brightly coloured
gaudy and plastic decoration preferred by today's
Tongan artists. There were other surprises. He noticed
the silk flowers often used by Tongans for decoration
were originally made in Asia; he saw that for many
Tongans an important cultural icon is that of the
Mormon Church.

Green marked a space for himself in the ocean,
placing flags around the spot that he would claim as his
own, knowing that this place could never actually be
contained, just as the past can never be perfectly

Traudi Alien
Writer and art historian


' My thanks to Dr. Helen Morton, lecturer, La Trobe University

for information on Tongan craft.

2 Nicholas Thomas, Oceanic Art, Thames and Hudson, London,

1995, p.136

3 Horni Bhabha in The Babelian performance' attempts to
move beyond binary opposites in his analyses of colonial relations.
'Whereas Said concentrates almost entirely on the colonizer, and
later Fanon almost entirely on the colonized, Bhabha seeks to
emphasize the mutualities and negotiations across the colonial
divide.' Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics, Verso,
London,?. 115 & 116

4 Edwin Serdon, Early Tonga as the Explorers saw it, University
of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1987 p. 13
' Mark Dalby, The Cocker Connection, Regency Press, London,
1989, p. 51

6 Ibid, The Friendly Island was the name given to one of the
Tongan island by Captain Cook, after which the name came to
be applied to the whole group of islands.

7 Mike Green Interview 21 July 2002