Melesaine in her family home on Oakdale Ave. in Bayview San Francisco, Ca. (Photo: Jason Meki)

Melesaine in her family home on Oakdale Ave. in Bayview San Francisco, Ca. (Photo: Jason Meki)

Jean Melesaine

As a Pacific Islander artist, watching my mother cooking "palusami," the way she arranged the leaves on the tables, the way she stirred coconut "sua," there was an art to how she moved. The way my father mopped the basketball courts in the Mormon church was a musical. How the light would hit my sister’s face as she worked the streets…the way my little cousin can fight to curve her mouth after being shot…as a photographer, I was born into it all. The way I grew up, I have to recognize that these moments even as a scintilla or minor second are my history, lost imagery that only gets remembered in my mind. To be able to tell the story through photos, especially for Samoans, for Pacific Islanders in the urban diaspora of America, there is a responsibility of a history at loss. In any sense of art, photography, or media, you have to honor the people you live for, who give you a sense of life.

"When you deny people’s humanity with media, you endorse violence against them." –Lovato

Melesaine is a Samoan documentary photographer and artist born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, born on the East Side of San Jose, raised in San Francisco's Bayview Housing and currently residing in West Oakland. She has worked with the community organization Silicon Valley DeBug for over 10 years where they helped her stray from the bad path she was on. There, she was taught conscious photography and film from community members as a teenager. Her work has been shown at Galeria de La Raza, with an exhibition following the lives of Queer Pacific Islanders, "Navigating Queer Pacific Waves" in 2013 as well as the Oakland Museum where she was the lead photographer for, "Pacific Worlds" exhibition in 2015.  In 2013 she was also chosen as the International Tautai Artist in Residence in Auckland, New Zealand and was awarded the Open Society Documentary Photography award in 2014. In 2016 she was chosen as KQED's Women To Watch a series celebrating 20 local women artists, creatives and makers who are pushing boundaries. In 2017 Melesaine made "Yerba Buena Center for Arts 100 List". Her life's work is to create and visually share the stories within her Samoan community living and surviving in urban America with dignity and  fa'aloalo (respect). Her mother, Sopo Masina Matai'a migrated from her village of Moamoa, Western Samoa to San Francisco and her father Moaseni Tito Leasiolagi migrated to Oakland from his village Salani Faleali’li in Western Samoa.