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Published on 30th January 2013
Former VSA volunteers Ana Terry and Don Hunter have used the insights into Melanesian culture they gained while on assignment in Vanuatu to curate an exhibition of photographs opening at Porirua’s Pataka Museum on Saturday February 2.
The Black Islands is a exhibition of photographs from several Melanesia countries taken over the last 20 years by Australian photo-journalist Ben Bohane.
Ana, who went on assignment as a desktop publishing and graphic design adviser in Port Vila in 2008-2009, says the photographs provide a unique window into the often turbulent and complicated relationships between Melanesian kastom belief and Christianity.
She and her partner Don Hunter first met Ben Bohane at an exhibition at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre in Port Vila, and were impressed by the collaborative way he worked.
“Ben uses a method known participatory action research (PAR) that aspires to empower the subjects through a negotiated process and informed consent, rather than ‘point and shoot’ in the field,” she says.
The result is photographs in which the participants seem to be looking directly at and engaging with the viewer.
Most of the photographs in The Black Islands appeared in an exhibition of the same name at the National Army Museum in Waiouru last year. However, Ana and Don have selected some new photographs for the Pataka exhibition, and have also written a short essay to accompany it.
According to Ana, curating the exhibition is another example of how going on assignment with VSA can provide unexpected and rewarding benefits for volunteers.
“I was inspired by a returned volunteer I met during the VSA selection process who had curated an exhibition while she was away,” she says. “That inspired me to see what other ways I could engage with the local culture and grow relationships that extend beyond the assignment.
“From a personal point of view, curating this exhibition is a very rewarding result of being a volunteer.”
The Black Islands: Spirit and War in Melanesia runs at Pataka in Porirua from 2 February until 21 April.