Australian street artist Fintan Magee recently traveled to Papeete, Tahiti to complete his newest mural “Strength of Memory”. The five-story project, found in French Polynesia’s capital city, was curated by ONO’U Tahiti, an organization that promotes public art on the island. ONO’U hosts a yearly graffiti festival and also hosts street art tours, in addition to their work curating interventions by famed international artists. With this partnership, Magee once again brings his emotionally artistic mastery to the streets of Tahiti.
Widewalls writes that “Magee highlights the extraordinary and beautiful nature of our everyday life.” After getting his start on Australia’s graffiti scene, he acquired his degree in fine arts. His experience in the revolutionary realm of illegal art is evidenced through his commitment to themes like “waste, consumption, loss, transition, but also sentimentality and nostalgia related to childhood memories.” His formal training has helped him to express these ideas in his distinctly dreamy, yet realistic style.
These elements of Magee’s artistic composition shine through in “Strength of Memory”. The artist made no comment regarding the mural’s meaning or intention, leaving the viewer to find their own significance. The tone reads as one of pain met with comfort. A young man is keeled over on his knees, his hands open with palms facing upwards as if in defeat. His placid gaze shows he suffers from emotional, rather than physical pain. A woman offers emphatic support, crouching down to hold him in her arms, her cheek pressed against his back with her eyes closed. While Magee includes no clue as to what trauma they’ve endured, it is obvious they will face it together.
While the woman wears a modest white garment that appears to be made of lace, the man is unclothed save for a faded pair of pants. The triangular pattern tattooed onto his left arm serves as one of the mural’s focal points. It might also prove an important clue in understanding the mural’s message. Zealand Tattoo explains that “there was no writing in Polynesian culture so the Polynesian’s used tattoo art that was full of distinctive signs to express their identity and personality.”
Positioning determines part of each tattoo’s meaning. In “Strength of Memory” the central figure’s tattoo covers his whole arm. The upper ams “are associated with strength and bravery,” while the lower arms “[relate] to creativity, creation and making things.” The triangular patterns themselves are common throughout Polynesian culture. Whether depicted simply, as Magee does here, or in a more ornate fashion, they symbolize shark teeth, and “represent protection, guidance and strength as well as ferocity.”
With the mural’s overall atmosphere of pain paired with comfort, Magee seems to highlight the importance of growing through the struggles we must all endure. The moral is especially prescient in this era, where social change must first confront the painful errors society has made in the past. Tahiti is no stranger to such tumult. In 1995, New York Times reported on riots that resulted in the destruction of the island’s airport after French officials announced they would proceed with nuclear testing off its coast. The event brought into focus the country’s history with colonialism, leaving many citizens wondering how to move forward. The best bet is to harness the strength of memory, and call upon the prowess and creativity of a warrior to action in the fight for a better world.