Edith Amituanai

The Manu Lounge, Edith Amituanai, 2006

The fireplace in the lounge of the Manu household is hidden behind a bookshelf arrayed with volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica and flanked with blue-and-gold vases of plastic flowers. Above the mantle, a family portrait—mum, dad, an older girl and three younger boys. More photos, of family members and sports teams, are clustered around as part of the display, which is filled out with ornamental knick-knacks: a carved 21st key inscribed “Carl Manu”, little vases and candleholders, figurines, two wall-mounted flower-holders made from polished and painted coconut shells, a clock in the form of a fan, strings of beads or shells hanging from the ceiling, and lace doilies. On the far right, a cheap computer desk and office chair, and some old-looking electronic hardware modestly screened by a patterned blue fabric, and piles of albums. On the far left the ubiquitous power strip and attendant spaghetti of cables leading out of the frame to where I imagine the television, DVD player and Sky box are positioned. On the floor, a plastic woven mat. In this carefully set interior display, we read the importance of family connections, sport, and markers of social order. The encyclopedias at the heart of the exhibition connote an ideal of order and learning, even if rather obsolete and apparently not frequently accessed.

The domestic interiors of Pacific islanders photographed by Edith Amituanai (in New Zealand, Samoa, and Alaska) are not expensively furnished—the most expensive items that appear regularly are televisions. Couches and armchairs are typically shapeless and well-worn, draped over with bright fabrics. The floors are almost exclusively covered with mats of some description. The rooms themselves are generic, and we get the sense of people making themselves at home in buildings that offer them little. The images, some cheerful and airy, others stark or claustrophobic, are portraits of a culture of interiority and documents of the intensive labour of making a place home.

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