Umu Haze by Owen Scott

Ema Tavola standing before an Otara mural by Askew in memory of Santana Robyn Shortland aka Sante, Harwood Crescent // Photo by Babiche Martens

THANK YOU Owen Scott for a wonderful article in Viva magazine of the New Zealand Herald (21 January 2009)
I’m honoured… vinaka vakalevu.

And it is Obama day – what a day… “we know that our patchwork heritage is our strength not our weakness”
Vinaka Obama!!

Ema Tavola
Umu haze
By Owen Scott for Viva magazine, New Zealand Herald (21 January 2009)

First impressions of Ema Tavola are of London chic. But her modern, urban British accent is a bit of a red herring. Her mother is a Pakeha educationalist and her father a retired Fijian diplomat. The accent comes from attending an English school in Brussels. Identity is something Tavola talks about with eloquence. “I’m a hybrid, genetically conflicted. Pakeha and Fijian – part coloniser, part colonised.”Tavola is the young, vivacious director of Fresh Gallery Otara in South Auckland. With Fijian warmth and a ready laugh, her passion about what she is doing shines through. She has a degree in sculpture from the Visual Arts School in Otara, on the recommendation of Niuean-born artist, John Pule.

“I struggled at Arts School because I saw a lot of Pacific artists having to compromise, fitting into the framework of Western art systems.” Tavola made sure her views were known. “I’m definitely an agitator, I don’t like mediocrity!”

Two months after finishing her degree she was appointed to the council as Pacific Arts Co-ordinator and has found her niche. Fresh Gallery Otara is an old laundromat given a $20,000 facelift and run as a council arts facility. It opened in 2006 with Tavola as its director and curator, on a mandate that the Otara community be the first audience. Long and skinny, the gallery has only 16 metres of wall space, but it’s developed a reputation for exciting, innovative work. The artists are young; the identity and influence strongly South Auckland.

“I love that space. I’m taking it in the direction of being a contemporary Pacific exhibitions gallery. I like that the fashion and trends of South Auckland don’t subscribe to those of Central Auckland.”

Tavola has established relationships with dealer galleries in Auckland. In the case of Leilani Kake, it meant after exhibiting at Fresh she was quickly given the opportunity to exhibit elsewhere. Kake went on to win Emerging Artist at the Arts Pacifica Awards in 2008.

The video installation artist, Janet Lilo, broke attendance records with her exhibition entitled Top 16 about the culture of social networking sites such as Bebo. “Kids came in and read the installation of over 400 photos like a book,” said Tavola, “looking at each image to see if they recognised anyone.”

It’s a mark of her curatorial success that late last year she was invited to host a Pecha Kucha evening in Manukau. Pecha Kucha is a forum for architects, artists and design lovers to give short, 20-image presentations. Nearly 300 people attended. Tavola introduced 14 talented “newbies” – artists established in their own right but not mainstream.

They included the Tongan graffiti artist Benjamin Work, and electro-rapper Coco Solid, fresh from the Red Bull Music Academy in Barcelona.

Tavola says what she is seeing more and more is a South Auckland conviction.

“The artists are so proud of where they come from. Manukau is a little bit ghetto and a little bit ugly, but it’s culturally special. On Christmas Day in Otara, all you can see is a haze from the umu. The smell is intoxicating. The thing about South Auckland is it defines itself – socially, politically and in its art. The umu haze represents that. It’s symbolic.”

Fresh Gallery Otara,
Shop 5, 46 Fairmall, Otara Town Centre, Manukau.
Next exhibition runs for three weeks from 22nd January,
5 Fiji Women artists

One thought on “Umu Haze by Owen Scott

  1. woo hoo! big ups to both you and owen! great article!!! love the umu haze imagery!! loloma levu, t-

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