Born 1972 Sydney, Australia
Lives and works in Sydney, Australia
In Tongan culture, ‘Punake’ is a term used to describe artists who compose poetry and songs and choreograph them for performance. The word comes from puna (to fly) and hake (on high). Latai Taumoepeau is a contemporary Punake — a body-centred performance artist whose powerful artistic practice tells the stories of her homelands, the Island Kingdom of Tonga, and her birthplace of the Eora Nation, Sydney. Working in durational performance and documenting it through photographs, she addresses issues of race, class and the female body. In her recent practice, Taumoepeau explores the effects of climate change in the Pacific, probing existing power structures and the looming possibility of dispossession that many island communities face.
Latai Taumoepeau / Australia/Tonga b.1972 / Dark Continent 2018 (Performance documentation) (detail) / Digital print on paper ed. 1/3 / 118.9 x 84.1cm (sheet) / Purchased 2018 with funds from the bequest of Jennifer Taylor through the QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: QAGOMA / © and image courtesy: Latai Taumoepeau / Photograph: Zan Wimberley
Latai Taumoepeau describes herself as a punake, a Tongan term describing performance artists, such as dancers, who use their bodies as their medium. Dark Continent 2018 is a selection of still photographs that documents Taumoepeau over a period of 48 hours, as she slowly stretched and contorted her body into poses that enabled her to apply artificial colouring solution to her skin, using a small electric compression gun. Performed in Sydney, the work explores prevailing ideas of the Australian national identity — iconic sun-bronzed, beach-goers of European heritage. Focusing on the artificial tanning of a Pacific woman, this work foregrounds groups, who, historically, are largely unrepresented in the national imagination. Engaging with issues of race, as well as attitudes towards the female body, the slow transformation of Taumoepeau’s skin raises questions around the markers of national identity.