Article by Iminza Keboge
Pictures by Rhiannon Adam
What would you do if you were sentenced to three months on a small isolated island in the middle of an ocean?
Let me tell you something about a solo exhibition of never-before-seen pictures, audio, and objects from a woman who travelled alone to spend her ‘sentence’ on the remote Pacific Ocean island known as Pitcairn. The island, measuring just three square kilometres, is home to to the descendants of the infamous HMS Bounty Mutiny that took place in April 1789 after crew members of a British Navy ship seized it from their captain and settled on the island with native people.
Almost 229 years later, Rhiannon Adam, the woman who lived on the island for three months, brings her experience live in the exhibition titled Big Fence/Pitcairn Island project and at Francesca Maffeo Gallery.
“The show will present many pictures, audio, and objects from my Big Fence / Pitcairn Island project,” Adam, who says she travelled to the island in 2015, says.
“Pitcairn measures just two miles by one mile: a craggy volcanic lump of rock and Britain’s last Overseas Territory in the Pacific Ocean. There is no air strip, and the nearest inhabited land is more than 300 miles away in French Polynesia. Access to Pitcairn is only achievable by boat, the only regular service being aboard a quarterly supply vessel.Today, there are only 42 people on island and just one child;without an influx of population its days are numbered,” Adam says.”Despite its location and the romance of the Mutiny, Pitcairn is an unpopular destination – it is no idyllic paradise. It is now perhaps more famous for a string of high profile sexual abuse convictions involving island men that marred its reputation just over a decade ago. As a result, islanders are reticent about accepting outsiders, and my ‘sentence’ on Pitcairn became a daily fight.”
Rhiannon Adam, who was was born in Ireland and educated at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and at the University of Cambridge,says “Big Fence/Pitcairn Island is the first in-depth photography project to take place on Pitcairn, and features a mixture of imagery – portraits, interiors, found imagery and Polaroids – all shot on expired film to draw the parallel between the fragility of the place and the film medium itself.”
Adam says every problem on Pitcairn is amplified and that there is no respite – “honesty is eclipsed by need. Here women face their darkest moments daily, relying on their abusers – to break ranks is to ensure the community’s downfall. Here, no experience is individual. In this most isolated of places, claustrophobia prevails. A complex and tense environment where loneliness and secrecy thrive. Relationships are fractured, locations bare scars. Every corner of this island is marred. Though the mutineers came for escape, Pitcairn provides no such comfort, its rocky shores and open ocean acting as a prison wall for all within. Unwanted sexual advances and public showdowns peppered my stay and almost everyone was photographed in private, inside, away from judging eyes – a covert operation. With each subject I had just one opportunity – many taking months of coercion. As a result, those absent in the project (mainly the women themselves) perhaps tell a more potent story than those who are included.”
Adam is author of Dreamlands, Wastelands (2014) and Polaroid: The Missing Manual, The Complete Creative Guide (2017).
The Big Fence/Pitcairn Island project show by Rhiannon Adam opens on April 20 and runs through June 9, 2018 at Francesca Maffeo Gallery, No. 284 Leigh Road, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex,
SS9 1BW.The gallery shall be open at the following times:
Monday: By appointment
Tuesday: By appointment