Housed within the expansive space of Carriageworks, Salote Tawale’s exhibition, I remember you stands in stark contrast to the industrial ambiance of the venue.
When first stepping foot into the space, the viewer’s eyes are immediately drawn to the huge vessel, titled No Location (2021) or bilibili as it is known by the people of Fiji. Located at the entrance of the exhibition, the bilibili was originally presented at the 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery.
This work serves as a suitable prelude to the entire exhibition, as it was inspired by a childhood memory of when Tawale first encountered a bilibili on display at the Fiji Museum. In that moment, she envisioned the vessel as a means to traverse between her residence in Australia and her family in Fiji. It became a symbol of her experience as part of the diaspora and that sense of being in between the two identities.
I remember you feels like a deeply personal journey through some of Tawale’s memories and the exploration of her own identity. Through the exhibition, viewers are invited to ponder on the relationship between memory and identity. Tawale highlights the synergy between these two themes through the lens of a queer Fijian Australian woman in the diaspora.
As viewers move past the bilibili, we are met with masks of varying colours and shapes hanging overhead. The masks are a tangible expression of the emotions experienced by many of those in the diaspora as they seek to discover their identity while navigating between their homeland and their adopted residence. Every mask symbolises a distinct moment in Tawale’s life – a particular memory, individuals she has known, and the diverse masks she has donned while on the journey of exploring her identity.
At the other end of the exhibition space, on a simple clothesline made of wire and propped up by a long stick, hangs a shirt with long extended sleeves made of fabrics common among many of the Pacific Islands. While these fabrics are prevalent across the islands, they are integral to a broader historical narrative that encompasses the colonial project and the circulation of various commodities that influenced our own goods. This history has significantly influenced the objects that contribute to the identity of Pacific Islanders. These fabrics today are embedded in the memories of many Pacific Islanders, as they are used to line the borders of their homes in the islands and are also objects of value.
At the centre of the space is the recreation of a modern Fijian home. It is an accurate replica of the houses that can be found in many Polynesian countries, down to the way it’s decorated inside, from the Chinese mats that cover the floors, to the simple wooden chairs and the fabrics that border the home. For this reviewer, who is of Samoan descent, it was able to stir up memories of their own home back in Samoa. It underscored the importance of specific objects featured in many of our memories, in shaping our collective identity as Polynesians.
Everything included in I remember you has been done with intention, down to even the smallest details and the placement of objects. This exhibition successfully transports the viewer to another world and time. Although it is based on Tawale’s own memories and experiences, I remember you allows us to explore the inextricable link between memories and identity in the context of our own lives.
I remember you is on view at Carrriageworks, Sydney until 28 January; free.