Dan Taulapapa McMullin is a Samoan fa‘afafine (effeminate male-transwoman identity in Samoan culture) contemporary artist and writer who is known for his irreverent humor as well as his critical take on colonialism and homophobia. His paintings and sculpture have been exhibited in museums across the USA. Among his publications are a poetry chapbook, A Drag Queen Named Pipi, and a book of poetry, Coconut Milk. He also produced a short film, Sinalela.
Growing Up Fa‘afafine, Not Fa‘afafine
Of Samoan-Irish-Jewish descent, Taulapapa is the son of an American Samoan soldier, Samuelu Sailele McMullin Sr., and a Samoan nurse, Lupelele Iosefa McMullin. Taulapapa was born on an American military base in Sendai, Japan in 1957, and grew up on military bases in Germany, California, and Hawai‘i. While his father served in Viet Nam, Taulapapa lived with his mother and grandparents in the villages of Malaeloa and Leone, Tutuila Island, American Samoa. His experiences of traditional Polynesian village life and his childhood growing up fa‘afafine inform much of his art and writings. Moving back to the United States meant leaving fa‘afafine life for the homophobia of American life in the 1960s. As a young man in the late 1970s, Taulapapa studied conceptual art at California Institute of the Arts under American conceptual artists such as John Baldessari, and with composer-artists John Cage and Laurie Andersen.
Art, Compassion, Activism
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Taulapapa was involved with ACT UP Los Angeles and Queer Nation. He participated in performances at Highways performance space in Santa Monica, and was a regular at the seminal dance bar Club Fuck in Los Angeles. Taulapapa left California for a fellowship at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the early 1990s.
His play Sodomie was produced by Soho Rep in New York and Asian American Theatre Company of Minneapolis. He won a Writers&Poets Award from the Writers Loft in Saint Paul with a series of poems with which he began touring in the South Pacific, influencing a younger generation of Queer artists and writers including Tanu Gago and Daniel Satele. He wrote poetry for anthologies such as Whetu Moana: Polynesian Poetry in English, and published essays on the political history of Eastern Samoa and American Samoa in books like Resistance in Paradise and the indigenous anthology, Sovereignty Matters. In the late 1990s, Taulapapa worked with the American Samoa Arts Council teaching poetry at Leone High School, Fa’asao Girls High School, Ta’u High School, and Olosega, Fitiuta, and Faleasao Primary Schools. He wrote the draft of a play on the last sovereign of Eastern Samoa, the Tui Manu’a Elisala, which led to political disagreements with the American Samoa colonial government, loss of funding due to his dissident stand on US colonialism, and continued support for the reunification of the Samoan Islands. Taulapapa’s work is also included in the anthology, Queer Indigenous Studies (2001).
Taulapapa wrote and produced a video short, Sinalela, in 2001. Shot in Samoa, the story was based on versions of the Sina story of Samoa and the Cinderella story, with fa‘afafine characters and actors. With support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s consortium Pacific Islanders in Communications, based in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, he worked on a script, Shark in the Woods, for production with Hawai‘i-based Maori filmmaker Merata Mita.
Organizing Fa‘afafine in Samoa and Beyond, Painting
During this time, Taulapapa was involved in the early stages of fa‘afafine organizations Samoan Fa‘afafine Organisation of Apia, Samoa, and UTOPIA (United Territories of Polynesians In Alliance) in San Francisco, California. For several years, he was in a relationship with African American Bisexual activist and Berkeley theologian Eliyahou Ibrahim Farajaje. Taulapapa worked with Asian American Theatre Company of San Francisco, and as artist-in-residence for the California Arts Council producing a student publication at Samoan Community Development Center, a Samoan student exhibition at San Francisco City Hall, and workshops with Queer youth at Lavender Youth in the Castro District.
It was early in the 2000s, while living in Apia, Samoa, that Taulapapa’s artistic practice took a new course with work in the visual arts that began with a series of paintings of fa‘afafine in Samoa, and resulted in exhibitions of his works around the world. He developed a friendship with fa‘afafine choreographer and theatre director Seiuli Ailani Alo, who figured in many of Taulapapa’s paintings. Since then, Taulapapa’s art consists mostly of oil paintings with collage in an ironic romantic vein, and abstract works based in part on weaving. His paintings can be viewed at www.taulapapa.com.
Taulapapa on Taulapapa
From the interview, “Why Must I Wait For Night? – The Restless Diaspora of Dan Taulapapa McMullin,” by Daniel Michael Satele:
Sometimes I think my stuff is shit and I really should give everyone a break and stop doing what I’m doing. And sometimes I feel like what I’m doing no one else is doing and why not do it? It’s fucking unusually amazing, there’s nothing like it anywhere! But most of the time I just keep plodding along, looking at the new blank canvas or the new piece of paper, willing the image, its story, from some kind of nothingness. Quitting is for cocksuckers. Oh wait, I am a cocksucker. Okay then; quitting is for really terrible cocksuckers, and I am definitely not a really terrible cocksucker.
Hattori, Anne et al. Resistance in Paradise: Rethinking 100 Years of U.S. Involvement in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee, 1998.
Driskil, Qwo-Li et al. Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona, 2001.
Satele, Michael. “Why Must I Wait For Night? – The Restless Diaspora of Dan Taulapapa McMullin.” The Pantograph Punch, pantograph-punch.com/why-must-i-wait-for-night-the-restless-diaspora-of-dan-taulapapa-mcmullin, accessed April 2013.
by Daniel Michael Satele
Taulapapa, Dan. Sinalela. 2001. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hvJQTyTSZg