Latai Taumoepeau, born 1972, Sydney, Australia. Lives and works in Sydney. 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.
By facing the past, we back into the future. Latai Taumoepeau cross-pollinates ancient practices of ceremony with contemporary body-centred art. In her new video work War Dance of the Final Frontier, a collective body combats a climate centurion monster who has come from the depths of Oceania. Can they conjure their elemental power to disable it and its kin with an ancient war dance? The South Pacific Ocean is currently the world’s laboratory for experimental deep-sea mining. The Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea has been marked out as the testing ground for this unprecedented technology, licensed to Canadian mining company Nautilus Minerals. Pacific communities and nations are on the frontline of climate change – its effects and its resistance. War Dance of the Final Frontier powerfully and poetically evokes this post-colonial resistance to an underwater threat, tentacular histories in tow.