Type of Document Dissertation Author Klarr, Caroline Katherine Author's Email Address firstname.lastname@example.org URN etd-04152005-144333 Title Painting Paradise for a Post-Colonial Pacific: The Fijian Frescoes of Jean Charlot Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Art History, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Jehanne Teilhet-Fisk (deceased) Committee Chair Daniel Pullen Committee Member J. Katheryn Josserand Committee Member Robert Neuman Committee Member Tatiana Flores Committee Member Keywords
- Jean Charlot
Date of Defense 2002-04-22 Availability unrestricted AbstractThis dissertation examines the altar murals created by Jean Charlot at St. Francis Xavier’s Catholic Mission, Naiserelagi village, Ra District, Fiji Islands. The church houses three of Charlot’s frescoes, a triptych over the main altar and single panels over each of the two transept altars. Painted between October 1962 and January 1963, the central triptych, The Black Christ and Worshipers, measures ten by thirty feet and features a crucified Black Christ, while the side panels depict full body portraits of indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians presenting culturally appropriate offerings to Christ. The two side altar panels, St. Joseph’s Workshop and The Annunciation, each measure ten by twelve feet.
During his lifetime, 1898-1979, Charlot refined his knowledge of the fresco technique and painted murals at forty-five different sites in Mexico, the United States, and the Pacific Islands of Hawai’i and Fiji.1 I concentrate on Charlot’s contributions as a mature artist by focusing on his little-known liturgical frescoes in Fiji. This text is the first serious academic study to document the history, social contexts, and commission of any of his frescoes in the Pacific Islands. Through my investigation, I demonstrate how his later Pacific works expressed relationships with local cultures and drew from his earlier experiences in France and Mexico. I explore the relationship that developed among artist, artwork, and audience. I argue that Charlot conceptualized his artistic works as “signs” that operated within both aesthetic and communication systems cross-culturally. I reconfigure signs within their cultural contexts to determine meaning from both the synchronic perspective of the artist, as well as a diachronic and multicultural perspective based on the three cultural groups who compose the major audience, Fijian, Indo-Fijian, and European. I address the history of liturgical art in the twentieth century by offering the first scholarly text to document thoroughly a major art form, Charlot’s “Black Christ,” in the syncretistic traditions of the Catholic Church as experienced in the Pacific Islands/Fiji.
Charlot's Fijian frescoes embodied ideas integral to the future of the Catholic Church. In his Fijian murals, Charlot's incoporated local models, indigenous objects, and native flora, capturing the religious climate of the early 1960s and the changes brought about by Vatican II, changes that sought to define the future direction of the Church in relation to indigenous cultures in mission areas. While not overtly political, these ideas led to liberation theological movements, especially, Black theology, and, as such, advocated socio-political independence. As a colonized nation, Fiji's future in the 1960s depended on indigenous representation and self-determination. Charlot's Black Christ, with its native savior as the head of the Church, symbolized Fijian leadership and, by extension, sovereignty.
Although Charlot's Fijian frescoes were a liturgical commission, the illustration of Fijian Black Christ triptych articulated post-colonial values. A public artwork, the Fijian frescoes transcended time, ethnic, and religious boundaries, extending even into the realms of national society. As a citizen of the United States, Charlot had pledged his belief in "one people under God." In his Fijian triptych, he promoted the idea of the "peace of God" and a universal humanity by presenting the diversity of creation; he painted the major ethnic groups of Fiji, native Fijian and Indo-Fijian, coming together as equals, regardless of social status, cultural background, or ethnicity. In Fiji, as in Hawai'i, Charlot's murals implicitly empowered Pacific Islanders through his monumental public images. He depicted local peoples within their cultural contexts and represented them as equals, not only in the eyes of God, but also in the eyes of the colonialists who dominated them. In his Fijian frescoes, Charlot painted a Fijian Black
Christ and a natural "Paradise" for an audience of viewers in a post-colonial Pacific.
Zohmah Charlot, Jean Charlot Books, Portfolios, Writings, Murals (Honolulu: Private printing, 1986). Appendix 1. Jean Charlot’s Fresco Murals.
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