Whitecliffe Educated: The Student Experience

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Whitecliffe Educated: The Student Experience

Exploring her own culture has given Fourth Year Photography student Allison Johnston the chance to shape who she is and further discover her identity. Allison mentions that “being away from my country made me realize the importance of my culture. But most of all, I believe that the New Zealand art world and Whitecliffe allow the development of my projects because of the importance they see in cultural heritage throughout the Pacific.”

Allison was born on the island paradise of Tahiti in French Polynesia. Allison attended Lycée Samuel Raapoto in Papeete where she majored in History of Art. During this time she became interested in going overseas after graduation. Her mother had attended Whitecliffe in 2000 and Allison thought it would be the “perfect opportunity” for her to continue studying art and learn to speak a language other than her first languages of French or Tahitian. Choosing Whitecliffe was easy following her mother’s recommendation.

“Photography was not my first degree choice when I enrolled at Whitecliffe, because I always was a drawer and a painter. It was actually at the end of my first year that I realized how much potential I had developed in this field. It brought out something I had inside me,” Allison explains. Talking about her homeland and source of inspiration, she says, “…my island is famous for its extraordinary landscapes, maybe the myths around the exotic women. The film Mutiny on the Bounty was made in Tahiti where Marlon Brando ended up staying after all. It also has a very famous surf break known for its mythical wave, Teahupo’o.”

At the moment, Allison’s artistic vision explores “the intersections between traditional values and contemporary practice. My work is an ongoing study of my cultural heritage. I believe my research is triggered by an appropriation over my own culture because of the gaps in knowledge that time and generations have gradually created. My work may be seen as a comfort zone where my practice finds safety, but it is truly a risk-taking task to alter what has been established for centuries.” She adds, “the body of my work includes the use of photography, but also performance and filmmaking, in which I see the opportunity to record the cultural gaps within a continuous action and the combination of sound and image.”

Of for her studies at Whitecliffe over the last four years, Allison says “I really enjoy the way we are able to develop ourselves as artists, rather than students. Our ideas are not taken for granted, even if they’re really bad. I see the commitment of my lecturers, as well as the space they let us have, in order to allow our imagination to take place and come out in the best way possible.”

Her advice to prospective students wanting to study photography is to “never stop creating, always make what you want to make and always do what you love! It is not an easy thing to do, especially in the art world where people will be very critical of your work. You will be tempted to do something that people will like better. Also, don’t take it personally when your art is getting critiqued- take it as an opportunity to make it better!”

Within the next five to ten years Allison’s aspiration is to be a commercial photographer and explore being a curator. “Because I am planning on living in New Caledonia, I think it will be interesting to open up the art market over there with a divergence of cultures from the Pacific.” 

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