Thursday 13 May was my last official opening at Fresh Gallery Otara, the Manukau City Council Arts facility I was instrumental in establishing and have run since May 2006. FGO’s 4th anniversary was marked with Terry Koloamatangi Klavenes’ second solo exhibition, Blood’s Thicker Than Mud. It was a beautiful gathering, with live music from Stevie J Heatley (Fiji) and DJ Algoodie. I was expecting to be a bit emotional.. so I wrote my speech, which I delivered after presentations by Mayor Len Brown and Leisa Siteine, Manager – Manukau Arts…
We’re here tonight to celebrate and honour four years that this gallery has represented artists, facilitated dialogue, been part of and totally affected by things that happen in this community.
Whilst there have been so many good memories, I remembered today the tragedy that was the fatal beating of 17 year old Riki Mafi, here in the Town Centre in 2006… an event that affected us all profoundly. We still remember that day and the aftermath, it was a tragedy that brought the community together in grief and love. We still honour Riki Mafi and his family, and remember.
Since I moved to Otara from the Pacific, this place has felt like a village, made up of diverse communities, hard working and focused, family oriented, rich in culture and arts. This community loves to dance and sing, party and talanoa… it’s no wonder I’ve felt so at home here for the past 8 years!
Fresh has come to reflect this space, through the mode of visual language and exhibitions, attempting to straddle the Western notion of art with a more indigenous, Pacific understanding and value of creative expression. For art to be important and functional, significant and worthy, it must respond and relate to its audience.
When artists explore their own cultural standing, strive to make sense of conflict, internal and external, we are part of that journey, and it has been a pleasure to create a platform where issues of identity and belonging are seen and felt, discussed and argued.
This Gallery has absorbed me, my blood, sweat and tears. With my parents and siblings residing in Fiji, this gallery has been my lifeline, enabling me to sustain a connection with the Pacific and the world. I have found my purpose, through Fresh, and I value everyone and every event that has grown from this site.
And I love Otara, and will always love Otara. Having acquired my degree here, fallen in love here, adopted a dog from here, been tattooed here…. Otara has made an indelible mark on my life. My move to the new Mangere Arts Centre was with reluctance at first, but knowing that Otara is my foundation, my strength, I feel as if I can do anything!
At this time, I have to make some important acknowledgements:
• Mayor Len Brown – who opened Fresh Gallery Otara in May 2006. You have reignited my love for politics and making change, such excellent leadership – it’s been an honour to work for Council during this time.
• Labour MPs Su’a William Sio and Carmel Sepuloni, who have supported FGO so much.
• Otara Community Board, thanks particularly to Chairman Tunumafono Ava Fa’amoe, Councillor ‘Efu Koka and Bill Wiki.
• Leisa Siteine, your consistent support and leadership has been the backbone of Fresh – thank you so much for giving me this opportunity.
• Naomi Singer, our ex-Marketing Coordinator and Erin Stewart, our current Marketing Coordinator, and the working partnership with Edgar Melitao from The Kitchen – for making Fresh look so flash on paper!
• Brett Stirling, Project Manager for the 2010 MPAS – for making this summit into such a landmark event for me.
• Nicole Lim, who came on board as a cadet doing work experience as a new graduate from MSVA and has become the best assistant anyone could ask for. Her endless patience and attention to detail, and her excellent work ethic has made her a huge asset to Fresh and the Otara community.
• My colleagues at Council; Robyn Allpress, Fa’ama Viliamu, the Manukau Arts team – Greg Whaiapu, Christine Forster and Nigel Borrel, Fala Pasifika – the Pacific staff network, the Otara Library and Yvonne Matsen from the Otara CAB.
• My peers in the Pacific arts and cultural sectors: Tautai Trust, in particular chair Gina Cole, Marilyn Kohlhase, Nemai and Yolande from 531PI, Jim Vivieaere, CNZ’s Pacific Arts Committee.
• My friends and supporters: Melissa Cole, Leilani Kake, Samiuela Napa’a, Janet Lilo, Dionne Fonoti, Torika Bolatagici, Leilani Salesa, Luisa Tora and Sangeeta Singh, Tanu Gago, Shigeyuki Kihara, Tessa Laird and Grant Thompson from MSVA.
To every single artist and curator who has blessed this gallery with their work – it has been such a pleasure to have spent four years serving you, representing you and working for you.
Vinaka vinaka vinaka vakalevu!