Francesca Maffeo Gallery invites you to the private view of ‘Big Fence / Pitcairn Island ’ by Rhiannon Adam, the first exhibition from our ‘Season of Women Photographers’.
Adam’s journey and documentation of her stay on the remote island of Pitcairn is a powerful and unsettling exploration of a ‘Paradise Lost’. ‘Big Fence / Pitcairn Island’ is the first in-depth photographic project to take place on the island.
In 2015, Adam travelled to the remote island community of Pitcairn, the last British overseas territory in the South Pacific. The island measures just two miles by one mile, today just one child and 42 islanders remain, descendants from the Mutiny on the Bounty. In 2004, the island’s romantic image was tarnished by a string of high profile sexual abuse trials; as a result, islanders are particularly reticent about accepting outsiders. With her trip duration dictated by the quarterly supply vessel, there would be no way off for three arduous months.
Pitcairn the paradise – Mutiny on the Bounty Island, the Anglo-Tahitian idyll, the Hollywood adaptations that followed. But there was another, darker, side to the island. Secrets that had ripped the community apart, convictions that had shocked the world. Spurred by testimony from one brave Pitcairn girl, a total of 8 living Pitcairn men were convicted of sexual crimes against young girls, one of whom is the island’s current mayor, Shawn Christian. Many of the men still apparently indignant, the abused girls now wives.
On Pitcairn, every problem is amplified, and 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.” (Rhiannon Adam)
Expired Polaroid film is used to capture the fragility of the place - its instability echoing the scarred underbelly of the island, its dreamlike quality capturing the whimsy of the legend. Images of empty rooms, rock fissures, objects, audio snippets, relics and damaged found photographs of long departed islanders sit alongside formal portraits, intermingling to capture the spirit and struggle of this tiny island nation as it sits on the brink of implosion.