Charles Valoroso, Oración, 2015. Mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.
Charles Valoroso, Oración, 2015. Mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.


Pacific Remembrance
Thursday, October 15, 2015

A conversation with artist Charles Valoroso

This fall, the Pacific Worlds exhibition has a new neighbor in OMCA’s Great Hall. Rituals + Remembrance, the Museum’s 21st annual Days of the Dead exhibition, opened this week. As we developed Pacific Worlds, Community Taskforce members asked that one major goal of the exhibition be to honor the Pacific Islander ancestors who made and used the artifacts that are now in the Museum’s collections.

Artist Charles Valoroso with his daughter at the Oakland Museum of California.Artist Charles Valoroso with his daughter at the Oakland Museum of California.

To bring this vision to life, artist Charles Valoroso constructed a moving ofrenda, or altar, for Rituals + Remembrance, Oración, which includes tapa, gourds, mats, and family photographs.

In his artist statement, he says:

“In the Pacific Ocean Islands we are all separated and connected by water. As a child, born on Kauai, I was drawn to the water. The ocean was my playground, my refuge, my spirit. The objects I have specifically chosen to include in my ofrenda (offering) reflect my llocano (Filipino indigenous group) and Hawaiian heritage and pay homage to my ancestors and to the indigenous people of Pacific Ocean Island cultures. These objects represent the human impulse across cultures to remember our loved ones through objects, pictures, and by passing on our stories and traditions to future generations.”

OMCA spoke to Valoroso via email about his altar, his story, and the connections between California and the Pacific.

Representations of Pacific Islanders are complex, says Valoroso, especially given the long history of harmful misrepresentations. “As one statement in Pacific Worlds pointed out by a native Hawaiian says, the word ‘Polynesian’ does not define all of the different groups and cultures into a single culture.” The quote in the exhibition that Valoroso is referring to comes from Sam Ka’ai: “I am not a Polynesian. Polynesian is something I’m called by foreign peoples. We need to sever this intellectual label that does not say anything of us.”

Valoros continues, “The Pacific Ocean Islands have been romanticized by anthropologists, artists, popular media, and the tourist marketing industry for hundreds of years. The Pacific Ocean is also a major political arena that is difficult to define within linear and organic borders as seen in a global map. The myth versus the reality is an ongoing issue.”

The kapa or tapa (Hawaiian barkcloth) included in Valoroso’s ofrenda was passed down to him by a Native Hawaiian man with heritage from Ka’u, Hawai’i Island, who had no other heirs. He says, “Tapa cloths are put in the hands of stewards who will care for and keep it within the family lineage and will be passed on for perpetuity without the intent of ever selling it to collectors. I will find someone in my family (‘ohana) to inherit this kapa with the promise that it will be taken care of for future generations.”

He adds, “I have been exploring kapa designs for over 40 years and began to incorporate the patterns into contemporary screen prints on wood panels and textiles. Working on this ancient art connects me with my ancestors in all of the Pacific Ocean Islands. It is a form of meditation and prayer. Oración.”

Works by Valoroso and nine other Bay Area artists, as well as community groups, are on view now in the special exhibition Rituals + Remembrance. Come visit it and neighboring exhibition Pacific Worlds through January 3, and learn more about the ways different Pacific Islander and other communities remember their ancestors and honor their past.

— Suzanne Fischer, associate curator of contemporary history and trends