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Digital initiative

Tavola: Soluble Geographies of the Equatorial Pacific



On Ocean Archive and on the Facebook pages of Ocean Space and TBA21–Academy.

From the Panama Canal over to the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, toward the Pacific Islands and on to the Strait of Malacca; the Equatorial Pacific trajectory set by Territorial Agency’s Oceans in Transformation navigates what Tongan-Fijian writer and anthropologist Epeli Hau‘ofa termed “our sea of islands”—the mobile groupings and resilient associations of people and places across vast expanses of ocean and against processes of colonization and neoliberal economic development. Here, sea level rise requires new ways of understanding what persists between land and sea. The work of Hau‘ofa and many other indigenous scholars and activists throughout the Pacific shows how the mobilization of people, ideas, and cultures in the region takes shape through the fluid associations of shorelines, islands, and currents.

Soluble Geographies of the Equatorial Pacific seeks to contribute to the dissolution of the colonial inscription of mid-Pacific archipelagos as fragile, isolated specks on a gridded map. Our approach considers how the mapping and memory of the “sea of islands” are not limited to the human experience. In the geological context, the assembly of atolls in the Pacific record the mutations of oceanic conditions in the long-durational archive of stratigraphy. The strata of the Pacific Islands register a unique spatiotemporal dimension embodied by Oceania’s mobile dwellers and diaspora together with the fallout of anthropogenic climate change.

The contrasting spatial imaginaries at play across the Pacific impact the land, the sea, and their inhabitants, human and nonhuman. Against a backgroud of climate change denial in Kiribati and the nuclear destruction and displacement of Bikini Atoll, emerge the strong agency of dynamic atolls and the living cartographies arising from indigenous views of the environment in West Papua. Such diverging realities challenge the one-sided narrative of imperiled communities in Oceania on the brink of collapse and/or entirely dependent on foreign intervention. The conception of statehood and ecological governance embodied by atolls, islands, and their people undermine the Western standards, based on lines designed to cut across lands, and propose alternative futures.

Soluble Geographies brings together contributions from four TBA21–Academy Ocean Fellows: Jeanne Penjan Lassus (Ghost in the Field) invites environmental anthropologist and activist Sophie Chao to share and reflect on her experience of multisensorial map-making with the Marind people of West Papua in the context of their struggle against deforestation and land grabbing; Fiona Middleton considers the dynamic response of atoll geomorphology to sea level rise in the context of marine spatial planning; Pietro Consolandi reflects with theologist Maina Talia and anthropologist Nicola Manghi on the hybrid, intertidal nature of Pacific atoll nations, taking Tuvalu as a case study; and Joe Riley presents a montaged history of surfing and political economy along the contested space of the Pacific’s many shores.


The "Tavola" are conceived as a space (without walls) for discussion. They are organized and promoted by the participants of the 2020 Ocean Fellowship created by TBA21—Academy within the context of Territorial Agency’s exhibition “Oceans in Transformation” at Ocean Space, in Venice, and its manifestation on Ocean Archive. Each Tavola intersects autonomously the Trajectories identified by Territorial Agency.

This event was conceived and coordinated by researchers: Jeanne Penjan Lassus (Ghost in the Field), Fiona Middleton, Pietro Consolandi and Joe Riley under the supervision of the two mentors Barbara Casavecchia and Louise Carver. Click here for more information about the Ocean Fellowship program.


Sophie Chao is an environmental anthropologist. She is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney’s School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry and the Charles Perkins Centre. Her research explores the intersections of capitalism, ecology, and indigeneity in the Pacific.

Nicola Manghi is an anthropologist and PhD candidate at Department of Cultures, Politics and Society at the University of Turin, Italy. His research focuses on the governance of the Pacific Island nations, and specifically on Tuvalu. He recently edited Bruno Latour’s volume Essere di questa Terra (2019), published by Rosenberg and Sellier.

Maina Talia is a Tuvaluan theologist and climate change activist. He is a member of the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network and the National Focal Point of Pacific Indigenous Network (PIN) in Tuvalu. He was part of the Tuvalu government delegation to the Conference of Parties (COP) 18 in Doha in 2012, 21 in Paris (2015), and 23 in Bonn (2017).