In his latest exhibit Ofa Atu, Josh Ostraff authentically explores the multiplicity of experience by contextualizing shared narratives about human relationships, living spaces and communal environments as an artform. The exhibit began as a community based project where individuals collectively created screen prints of fish, in which each print would then be combined so to fashion one larger instillation. Ostraff experiments with aesthetics, prioritizing the quality of his artistic ingredients more so than the quantity. Utilizing unconventional materials such as uncovered wood grain, exposed screws and acrylic based house paints, Ostraff ensures each element purposely balances with one another, which conceptually communicates a key component of equilibrium that is central to both Ostraff’s inner and artistic life.
Much of the influence for this exhibit is drawn from Ostraff’s personal experience with narratives he witnessed. Ofa Atu, translated to mean I love you, encapsulates a spectacle of affection in light of the traditional Tongan narrative that influenced the exhibit’s creation. Recognizing parallels between the Tongan narrative and his life in North Adams, Massachusetts, Ostraff’s exhibit demonstrates a strong appreciation for the equivalent of the ‘Atu in everyday life; an appreciation for rules that reflect morality, community, and the power of storytelling.
“In the Kingdom of Tonga there was a great and terrible hurricane [that] swept across the islands of Ha’apai, destroying all manner of vegetation…there was no food…Just when many people thought they would starve, a man came forward. His name was Hiko and he said he had had a dream…in this dream he was instructed that fish would come only as long as the people didn’t use hooks or spears, that they didn’t sell the fish for personal gain, and when the fish came they could only net as many as they needed to survive…It was there he called to the fish. Thousands of ‘Atu came.” — Josh Ostraff, OFA ATU
Having witnessed hundred of skipjack tuna surface the island of Ha’apai in the South Pacific, Ostraff reflected on this remarkable event that impacted his community and what implications this experience could have for his artwork. Ostraff invites the public to focus not on the practicality of such stories but more so the meaning that is interpreted and how we interact with these meanings within shared spaces. In doing so, Ostraff encourages his audience to question what art can do for a society, in which the answer reveals a realm of possibilities.