Greg Semu
The Battle of the Noble Savage 2007

23 August - 28 September 2013

Greg Semu is an Auckland-born artist of Samoan descent who recently relocated to Sydney after ten years based in Paris. As an artist of Pacific descent, Semu’s international travels have enabled him to experience different world views and perceptions of Oceanic art, culture and people.

Semu exhibited at the City Gallery Wellington in the landmark exhibition ‘Bottled Ocean’ (1994), curated by the late Jim Vivieaere. Semu’s inclusion in ‘Bottled Ocean’ took the form of a graffiti inspired corrugated iron work which spoke of the gritty realities of Pacific communities living in suburban Auckland. That same year Semu directed the Kiwi classic ‘In the Neighbourhood’ music video for the hip hop group Sisters Underground, which dealt with similar themes around cultural realities and public perceptions.

The ‘Battle of the Noble Savage’ series, commissioned by the museé du quai Branly, Paris (2007), responds to the ‘Bonded by Blood’ poster for the New Zealand All Blacks. Gifted to the quai Branly to commemorate the All Black’s 2006 tour of France and the 2007 World Cup, the poster depicted the All Blacks performing their signature haka ‘Ka mate, Ka mate’ amidst a tropical rainforest. As an additional promotional strategy, the designers literally ‘bonded’ blood samples taken from the players into the printing process.

In an act of subversion, Semu’s response poses fictitious scenes of Māori ‘warriors’ engaged in battle, seemingly celebrating the fighting spirit of Māori while addressing the objectionable stereotypes of Pacific people as ‘primitive’ and ‘savage’. Exploiting the classical romanticism of early colonial portraiture, Semu’s battle scenes hark back to early colonial paintings by Louis J. Steele, Nicholas Chevalier, Walter Wright and Charles F. Goldie and others. In this way ‘Battle of the Noble Savage’ becomes a satirical commentary on the historical and contemporary international purchase of the ‘noble savage’ image.