Mahu on the Beach
- Gauguin’s Skirt by Stephen Eisenman
Thames and Hudson, 232 pp, £19.95, April 1997, ISBN 0 500 01766 2
‘Soyez mysterieuses,’ Paul Gauguin had carved into the lintel of his last residence in the South Seas, the ‘House of Pleasure’, or ‘House of Orgasm’, as some would translate Maison du Jouir. ‘I am not a painter who copies nature – today less than before. With me everything happens in my crazy imagination.’ In September 1901, at the urging of that crazy imagination, Gauguin had left Tahiti. The simple savages he looked for were no longer there. They were to be found, he thought, in the Marquesas. At Atuona, on the island of Hiva Oa, he built his House of Pleasure.
Vol. 19 No. 15 · 31 July 1997
I was somewhat disturbed that Greg Dening should write of Gauguin that ‘he took to wearing a woman’s wrap-around skirt’ (LRB, 22 May), since I was at that moment wearing a ‘woman’s wrap-around skirt’. My worry was not so much for myself and my limen but rather for the London reader who might overestimate the significance of a male choosing to wear a brightly coloured lap lap or lava lava, the wrap-around ‘skirt’ that is endemic in this part of the globe. I am not alone in ‘going native’ in this way, since evening temperatures that may reach 88° and 100 per cent humidity strongly reinforce the view that trousers were invented by horsemen riding the chilly steppes of Central Asia. It is true that the wrap-around ‘skirt’ is not as widely worn as it once was by London Missionary Society pastors, policemen, government officials et al. Some have attributed this decline in popularity to presumptuous comments from Australian tourists.
Papua New Guinea University of Technology