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Abstract

Perhaps it's because I'm looking for him, but Paul Gauguin seems to follow me everywhere. I am standing in line at a bank on Rarotonga when a European woman behind me comments that the bank tellers "look just like a Gauguin painting"; her companion murmurs in agreement. In North America and Europe, Gauguin's paintings have become the defining, and inescapable, vision of the Pacific. Replicas of his images appear in the Disney Polynesian Resort in Kissimmee, Florida; in a bath products shop in California's Silicon Valley; in ads for Tahitian tourism: brown, lounging women, wrapped (or unwrapped) in brightly-colored pareu and adorned with flowers. The employees of a Bank in Avarua, professionally dressed in crisp white blouses and dark skirts like businesswomen in many parts of the world, transform in European eyes trained in looking through Gauguin's lens, and begin to "look like" not themselves, but like women in paintings created by a Frenchman living in another archipelago, one hundred years ago.

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