At age 81, Lusefamanatu (Luse) Nemani passed away on Friday 13 August in Otara. Luse has been one of our biggest supporters at Fresh Gallery Otara, having seen just about every show since we opened in May 2006. Luse was a member of the original Pasifika Arts o Manukau Trust, the organisation that was behind the creation of my role as Pacific Arts Coordinator for Manukau City Council. She was a Tongan warden for the Otara Town Centre and involved in so many initiatives and projects.
Luse has been a comforting friend and advisor to me, giving me insight into her mixed cultural heritage of Tongan and Niuean, her migration and life in Otara. I always appreciated her warmth and interest in my life. She made the most beautiful garlands/lei out of recycled sheet plastic, and knitted so many people warm winter scarves; we sold her lei and crochet work in the 2006 and 2007 ‘Under $100 Art Sale’ exhibitions and she was involved in our first anniversary exhibition, Fresh Gallery Otara Turns 1!
I loved when Luse would sing; she was always intending to record an album of songs in Niuean, Tongan, Fijian and English at Otara Music Arts Centre. I wish she did. She had the softest, most beautiful voice that reminded me of old Hawaiian love songs.
I’m happy that in the past two years, Fresh Gallery Otara hosted two Tongan exhibitions that Luse loved. In February 2009, Koloa et al: Your Art is my Treasure curated by Charmaine ‘Ilaiu and Nina Tonga showcased the Tongan artforms of weaving and backcloth design. In April 2010, Tongan Style curated by Manuēsina Mahina and Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai profiled the work of five Tongan women working in the mediums of embroidery, crochet, garment construction and church fashion.
Luse didn’t mind contemporary art, but always loved when the references to customary practice were recognisable. Her readings of paintings by Kulimoe’anga Maka and Samiu Napa’a, and sculptures by Visesio Siasau and Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi, always gave us food for thought.
I miss Luse already. I will always remember her warmth and love, her generosity and insight, her cheekiness, and how she loved hearing Tongan songs sung when we would have a kava band playing at Fresh Gallery Otara openings. Her service to the Otara community sets the bar so high, and I know her passing will be felt by so many people whose lives she touched.
‘Ofa lahi atu, Luse.