Mermaids of the South Seas: Paradisal landscapes and the Western Imagination

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Visual representations of Polynesia depict the region as ‘paradise’ and have been ripe with myths since Europeans’ first contact with the islands, particularly around Polynesian women. This article considers representations of mermaids and Polynesian women in Western visual culture, specifically ‘Girls of the South Seas’ imagery from Tahiti. Using a postcolonial feminist perspective on representation, this essay argues that similar visual narratives are used to represent mermaids and Polynesian women in that they are both created through heterosexist and colonial understandings of the Other. This is particularly apparent in the use of visual markers of exoticism and eroticism in both types of representation. The article also explores the relationship between these images, their representational practices and tourism as a myth-making industry and urges us to place these representations in their broader historical and colonial contexts as well as problematising their social impact on the Pacific Islands and their peoples.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeD1 Article in a trade journal


  • Polynesia
  • imagination


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