Dan Taulapapa McMullin

Fa'afafine De Young Museum University of Hawaii Press

Dan Taulapapa McMullin (born May 23, 1957) is an American Samoan artist, known for his poetry, visual art and film. His major themes are his indigenous Samoan heritage and his fa'afafine gender identity. McMullin has been creating literary and artistic works for over 35 years, and has received numerous awards, fellowships, and grants.[1] He works in a variety of literary styles and visual art modes. In his adult life, he has spent time in Los Angeles (where he worked for many years), and now live with his partner in Laguna, California, and Hudson, New York.[1][2]

Childhood and education

McMullin was born in Japan into a military family, and spent his toddler years in Germany, before moving to American Samoa as a young child where he was raised on Tutuila Island in the villages of Maleola and Leone.[2] [3]}}[4] He is of Samoan and Jewish-Irish descent. His childhood home on Samoa has been described as "a traditional Samoan fale roundhouse with coral stone flooring and sugarcane thatching, brought up making indigenous siapo barkcloth painting by his great-grandmother Fa'asapa."[2] He received his MFA from Claremont Graduate University and his BA from University of California, Irvine. He spent much of his professional career in television, film, and theater, before leaving those industries to focus on poetry and his own art. He has taught both poetry and painting at the University of the South Pacific, for the California Arts Council, for the American Samoa Arts Council and the American Samoan Humanities Council.[2]

Gender and heritage

McMullin's indigenous heritage and queer identity are central to his artistic work, as both themes and sources of inspiration. In a 2013 interview, when asked which non-artist most influences his work, he replied: "My old man, my boyfriend, usually in bed after yadda yadda, looking out the windows at the hills of Laguna, California where we are. It's moments like that I'm back in Samoa again, my soul is; and ideas come easily, like mangoes hitting a tin roof in the rain."[3]

McMullin identifies as fa'afafine, a Samoan third gender for which there is no exact English translation, but which is often described as a man who lives as a woman.[5] McMullin generally uses male pronouns, including on his own website.[1] Describing fa'afafine in an artist statement introducing his poetry and photography for the USC Cinema journal Spectator, McMullin writes:

"The standard practice among fa'afafine (MTF) and fa'afatama (FTM) is that one's sexual partners are "straight": fa'afafine doe not see ourselves as women, but also do not identify as gay men. It is sometimes said that a fa'afafine is a relatively new role in Samoan society beginning with the advent of foreign influence, however the role of fa'afafine in prevalent throughout Polynesia and is indicated by indigenous words such as fakafafine in Tonga, and mahu in eastern Polynesia. These indigenous words are without foreign etymology."[6]

McMullin, in an artist's statement in June 2016, said "Often, not always, but often my work looks at sexuality and the body. The body as memory, a key to our historical presences, to my own story and my oratory. There is a great cleft and an eternal return to the past, but the past is only a way to continue the journey into the future. A looking back as a way of setting the sale toward whatever my own indigenous futurism defines."[7]

McMullin has written personal narratives reflecting on both his gender and indigenous identity. In a 2011 essay for the Amerasia Journal he explores what it means to be Fa'afafine, both from a personal and historical context.[8] In an essay for The Poetry Foundation blog, McMullin says "Identity is not something we claim, it is something that claims us."[4]

Creative works


McMullin's poetry and essays have been primarily published in anthologies focused on LGBTQ or Pacific Island indigenous literature. McMullin's first full-length poetry collection, Coconut Milk (2013) was named in the American Library Association's Over the Rainbow top-ten overall category.[9]

McMullin's more experimental poetry, such as his poetry published in Poetry Magazine in 2016, often blends the boundaries between poetry, visual poetry, and visual art.[10][11] For instance, his poem "The Doors of the Sea":

"the blood red dust of life
as my brother's face
disappeared beneath us
beneath the ship which carried us and the goddess
to where we do no know
leaving the war of my grandfather

the smell of smoke following us."[12]

Before the publication of Coconut Milk, McMullin had already been widely published, and his solo collections included a poetry chapbook, A Drag Queen Named Pipi (2004) from Tinfish Press and a children's book My Name is Laloifi (2005).[1]

Visual art

McMullin began making visual art around 2004 while living in Apia Samoa. Around 2011 or slightly earlier, he began to explore the concept of the cultural appropriation of Samoan art and culture, or Tiki Kitsch as it is sometimes called. Much of his work since that time has been influenced by this shift.[13] In a 2012 artist statement McMullin writes:

"...looking at kitsch art has made me question all my assumptions about the Samoan artistic practice, and to search for alternative meaning in our conceptions of the traditional, realizing that my work relied on appropriated meanings and visual misinterpretations or a dumbing down of meaning. So i began making abstract paintings influenced by Samoan siapo and weaving. As well as the intellectual lives of the many indigenous and women and fa'afafine/whakawahine artists who inspired me."[13]

In addition to painting, McMullin also does a significant amount of work in sculpture, collage, installation and photography. McMullin's work has been featured in over a dozen solo exhibits – including installations at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (2016) and at the De Young Museum in San Francisco (2010) – and in over 50 group exhibitions across the United States.[1]

In a 2010 interview as artist in residence at de Young, McMullin discussed the physical make up of his works, as well as how the many media in which he works organically influence each other:

"In the past year or so, I've been working in various media for sculptures and installations, including plaster, red earth, plant fibers, altered furniture, oil paint, resin, and cloth. The sculptures in turn are influencing my paintings, which was once almost all realistic in its approach, but through the influence of my sculpture, I'm now incorporating abstract shapes."[14]


Of McMullin's three short films Sinaela has received the most acclaim, and has been shown at film festivals internationally including Australia and New Zealand.[1] It was filmed on a hand held camera in American Samoa, and draws on the fairy tale Cinderella as well as a Samoan proverbial tale (a fa'agogo). Since Sinaela, McMullin also made the films ULA: The Garland which was shown in 2011 in New Zealand at the Pacific Art Summit as a work in progress,[15] and 100 Tikis, a short film on the theme of cultural appropriation.

List of recent and notable exhibitions, publications, awards and honors


Writing (fiction, poetry, and essays)

Art exhibitions


Awards and honors

Residencies, fellowships and grants

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Dan Taulapapa McMullin". www.taulapapa.com. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  2. ^ a b c d "ADDLEDS Performance". Vimeo. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  3. ^ a b "Why Must I Wait For Night? – The Restless Diaspora of Dan Taulapapa McMullin". Pantograph Punch. Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  4. ^ a b Foundation, Poetry. "Over My Queer Samoan Body". Harriet: The Blog. Archived from the original on 2016-07-26. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  5. ^ Tan, Yvette. "Miss Fa'afafine: Behind Samoa's 'third gender' beauty pageant". bbc.com. BBC. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  6. ^ Dan Taulapapa McMullin. Peter Britos (ed.) "Artist Note". Oceania in the Age of Global Media Special issue of Spectator p. 113. USC Cinema, Spring 2003. Accessed online Oct 13 2016 at http://cinema.usc.edu/assets/059/11479.pdf
  7. ^ "Charlton Kupa'a Hee and Dan Taulapapa McMullin – Art in Hawaii". cargocollective.com. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  8. ^ McMullin, Dan Taulapapa. Fa'afafine Notes: On Tagaloa, Jesus, and Nafanua. Amerasia Journal 37:3 (2011). Accessed online Oct 11 2016 at https://www.academia.edu/2919623/_Faafafine_Notes_poetic_essay_Published_in_Amerasia_Journal_Transoceanic_Flows_Volume_37_Issue_3_Editor_Keith_Camacho_2011_
  9. ^ "Final Bibliographies – Over the Rainbow Books". www.glbtrt.ala.org. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  10. ^ "Coconut Milk". Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  11. ^ "Alaska". Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  12. ^ "The Doors of the Sea". Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  13. ^ a b Pacific Arts Association. Featured Artist: Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Tufuga Valiata, Notes on Painting. PAA Website. Accessed Oct 11 2016 http://www.pacificarts.org/Blog_dan_mcmullin
  14. ^ "An interview with Dan Taulapapa McMullin, October Artist-in-Residence". FAMSF. 2010-10-12. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  15. ^ "Manukau Institute of Technology | 2011 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit". 2011pacificartssummit.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  16. ^ "University of Hawaii Press – Huihui: Navigating Art and Literature in the Pacific". www.uhawaiipress.com. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  17. ^ "Coconut Milk". www.uapress.arizona.edu. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  18. ^ "Dan Taulapapa McMullin – Academia.edu". independent.academia.edu. Retrieved 2016-10-14.