Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum (PIEAM)

Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum (PIEAM)

California, focus on NHPI arts, cultures and biodiversities.

About the Organization:

As the only Pacific Islands museum in the continental US, PIEAM amplifies the collective wisdom of the people of Oceania/Pacific Islands through her artists and cultural practitioners. Our purpose is to ensure that how we share knowledge is in alignment with the diversity of the Pacific Islands indigenous peoples we serve in roots and routes.

organizational budget

$100,000-$500,000

existence for

11-15 years

The Issue:

The deep seated impact of historical and continued colonization on the Pacific and the people of Oceania cannot be overstated. We have seen and lived the ways it produces severe health, economic, and educational inequities here in the US as well as the destruction of our ancestral lands and water from Bikini Atoll to Red Hill to the rising sea levels that are displacing thousands. A key component of colonization is the suppression of indigenous cultures which has led to a loss of traditions, languages, and stories. What remains of Pasifika cultures today is the result of centuries of resistance.

Despite being hypervisible and the recent proliferation of media about and in the Pacific, our communities still aren’t being authentically seen or heard. The narratives offered are limited and narrow, reducing us to vacation destinations, tourist attractions, and spectacles. These narratives promote the corruption of our cultures, consumption of our land and bodies– without protection for our people. At the crux of this issue is that the majority of these stories are not made by or for our PI communities. 

This mis/underrepresentation is constantly reproduced in institutions and at decision making tables inevitably creating systems that aren’t designed to meet the needs of Pacific Islanders. Even spaces that purport PI inclusion have been complicit in our marginalization. We’d be remiss if we didn’t name how AAPI has become an issue for PIs because it’s so often a site of erasure and sometimes contradicts our indigenous principles. However, we continue to grapple and engage with the aggregate since it’s a mechanism through which resources and power are distributed.

The Solution:

Uno hit yan i tano’, i tasi, i guafi, yan i aire (We are one with the land, the ocean, the fire, and the air.)

PIEAM believes that culture is curative and culture keeping is an antidote to colonization. We reject museum models that posit artifacts and art as objects for display. Instead we treat them as relatives– ancestor pieces that we steward with great care. We understand the reciprocity that arises from this specific type of engagement where people transform the art with the stories they tell about it while it simultaneously changes them.

Programs and services advance our mission of an in-community institution and our dedication to uplifting narratives of diverse communities and combating erasure of traditional practices. We provide unrestricted access to PI artists/cultural practitioners to reclaim the power to construct their expansive narratives. In times of crisis, PIEAM acts as a hub, from collecting donations to aid Guam and Rota as they recover from Typhoon Mawar to advocating for community fundraising following the disastrous wildfires in Lahaina, Maui.

Core Services:

  • Educational Programs/Community Offerings– These can take various forms from language classes to book talks hosted by local and visiting practitioners. The most recent program was a Māori dance and culture workshop led by Amelia Butler of Learn Māori Abroad.
  • Rotating Installations– The installations are the most dynamic aspect of PIEAM’s work because they’re responsive to community needs and the ancestor pieces. Because of the devastating impact of COVID on PIs, PIEAM artists produced work educating people about the virus and protective measures. After lockdown, PIEAM co-curated Toe Fo’i as a healing space for visitors to process their grief commissioning Pasifika artists to facilitate online story circles and create multimedia art inspired by the experience. The current installation, Living Handbook, puts ancestor pieces in conversation with contemporary works offering guidance on how to be in relationship with these cultural treasures that serve a different purpose while in diaspora.
  • Living Arts– Performances that include dance and a partnership with Island Block Radio to host intimate concerts featuring PI musicians while the Resident Artist does live painting inspired by the songs.

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