Collection highlight: “Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis” by Angela Tiatia

29 Sep 2022
a film still showing a person staring into the camera with a hibiscus flower in her mouth
Angela Tiatia,” Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis”, 2010, single-channel HD video 16:9, colour, no sound, 3/5, duration 1:31 minutes. Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2019.

Angela Tiatia’s artistic practice draws attention to the damaging effects of tourism and the commodification of Great Ocean women in Western popular culture. Deeply informed by her Samoan heritage, her work has appeared in both national and international exhibitions exploring themes of identity and place.   

Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis (2010) is a silent film which challenges the masculine colonial gaze by centering the artist herself as the protagonist. The work unfolds by first playing into tropes of the passive woman before progressing to a powerful display of female agency. It opens by recalling the association between women and nature, showing the artist amongst green foliage with a hibiscus flower in her mouth. The hibiscus is also symbolically charged as it is often used in reference to the Islander feminine body.  

The film subverts the expectations it had initially set up when the artist slowly begins to devour the hibiscus while looking directly at the viewer. She reclaims control of her narrative and enacts a striking challenge towards the objectification of women in these contexts.  

Tiatia presents herself here as consumer, rather than consumed, in order to resist cultural misappropriation and Western commodification of Island communities. This provides a powerful comment on the harmful reduction of feminine Great Ocean bodies to motifs for tourist attractions and souvenirs. 

The work was filmed in Vaimaanga, Rarotonga, in Avaiki Nui (Cook Islands), on the site of a failed Sheraton Resort which nearly crippled the Cook Island economy in 1998. This speaks to Tiatia’s interest throughout her career in the reclamation of Island ecologies from tourism expansionism across the Pacific region.  

Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis brings into focus important discussions about commercialism, race, and gender to reveal the ecological, as well as personal, impacts of Western exploitation of Great Ocean communities. As part of Oceanic Thinking, Tiatia’s work provides a new perspective on the ocean’s connection to human experience, systems of power, and the shaping of identity. 

This work is on display as part of our “Oceanic Thinking” exhibition until 17 December 2022. Upper Level Galleries, free entry.