Hand-made Media

I often tire of trying to get [mainstream] media makers to recognise the importance of the artists and exhibitions that take place at Fresh Gallery Otara. For example, in six years of operation, the nationally funded Pacific Island affairs television programme, Tagata Pasifika, has done less than five stories on Pacific artists and events at Fresh.

In 2011, I collaborated with Tanu Gago to make a series of videos about Pacific artists and exhibitions; we started to make our own media. I’m really proud of what Tanu has created and will be making more in 2012. Here’s a video he made on Angela Tiatia’s 2011 exhibition, Foreign Objects

The Paradise Economy

From the Fresh Gallery Otara exhibition catalogue for “Foreign Objects”…


In Foreign Objects, Samoan multimedia artist Angela Tiatia creates a new museum of objects and imagery sourced from the Internet. Through searches using words like “Polynesia” and “Pacific”, words that are used to describe a region and complex interwoven communities of people, the material sourced paints an intriguing picture of the economics, power and politics of representation of Pacific Islanders and Pacific Islandness in popular culture.

Recently, many museums have evolved to foster dialogue and meaningful engagement with indigenous communities. But museum collecting has historically represented the beliefs, values and disciplines of the collectors, and further, seen as objective representations of people and cultures. In the context of colonialism, history from the perspective of one party is problematic.

Tiatia uses the museum as a medium to identify and investigate the language of collecting, encouraging us to question who the collector is and what is the context of their enquiry. In her re-imagined museum space, she reverses the gaze, assuming the position of the collector and not the collected.

These symbolic objects of representation form a pseudo-anthropological investigation of pop culture and e-commerce, tourism and the trade and exchange of Pacific Islandness. Using the exhibition language of the museum, Tiatia centralises the vitrine[i] putting cultural ideas and perceptions under a microscope.

As commodities “made in our image”[ii], this assemblage of readymade objects is an indirect homage not to the hands (or machines) that made them, or the economic context they represent, but to the cultural references, inspiration and intellectual stimulus that created them. The fact that nothing here is physically made by the artist perhaps represents the distance and dislocation of these representations of the Pacific.

The items in Tiatia’s collection have been purchased largely from the American online shopping website, ebay. Not only are the objects themselves rich manifestations of cultural cringe, the terminology used by buyers and sellers represent a further layer of continued stereotyping and misrepresentation, particularly with regards to the commercial delineation of authenticity.

Foreign Objects is a continuation of Tiatia’s recent interest in the post-colonial dynamics of the tourism industry. Her recent video installation, Neo-Colonial Extracts (2010) is a poignant and raw look at the reality of tourism in the Pacific. Featuring the derelict site of the Sheraton Resort in Rarotonga,Cook Islands, the work identifies the significant economic gain for local communities, and the scale of failure when tourism ventures collapse.

Tiatia’s 2010 video work Hibiscus Rose-Sinensis confronts viewers upon entry at Fresh Gallery Otara. In an exhibition formed largely from readymade objects, the work is in a sense a contextual statement. In a performance featuring the artist herself, a perfect red hibiscus flower is slowly consumed, revealing the face and penetrating gaze of the consumer – a Pacific Islander becomes visible, present, dominant. The red hibiscus, a common motif in contemporaryPacificIsland visual culture, potentially represents the historical and ongoing misrepresentations of simplicity, beauty and the Western concept of paradise. Here it is considered and slowly but surely devoured.

Tiatia’s first site-specific solo exhibition is repatriation of sorts. Her museum of paradise is steeped in the politics of a post-colonial hangover. There is a sense of nostalgia, in the memory of Oceania at the early stages of our relationship with the West, but equally a sense of disempowerment. Stereotypes and colonial ideas, views and framing of the Pacific endure and continue to inform misrepresentations in film, mainstream media and popular culture.

Fresh Gallery Otara is a constantly evolving site for the consideration and commentary on contemporary Pacific Island experience in Aotearoa. Presented here, Foreign Objects promotes a process of reflection, empowering viewers to consider the power play of representation and the politics of museums.

Ema Tavola
September 2011

[i] A glass display case commonly found in museums.

[ii] In conversation with the artist, Grey Lynn, August 2011


My first post on Colour Me Fiji was on 29 November 2006. I’ve just reached 50,000 hits and this is my 200th post. It has been an eventful 4 years! The blog has been a resource for lots of Pacific art happenings… for critique and outrage, love and loss. It has been mentioned in Art Monthly Australia and various ArtAsiaPacific Almanacs. The page on my village, Dravuni, has been widely clicked and inspired my father to start a blog about our beautiful island in the northern Kadavu group, http://kaidravuni.wordpress.com

Comments and feedback, opportunities and references from Colour Me Fiji have been really important to me… vinaka vakalevu.

Leilani Kake // City Gallery Wellington

Otara-based video installation artist, Leilani Kake is currently showing her beautiful 2008 work, Tino Rangatira Tanga as a solo exhibition in the new Deane Gallery at City Gallery Wellington.

A wonderful review has recently been posted on The Big Idea website, written by Mark Amery…

The Personal and Political

Mark Amery reviews exhibitions by emerging contemporary Maori artists showing in Wellington, including Leilani Kake’s moving three-part documentary video work Tino Rangatira Tanga.

“It’s an intimate portrait of her father and whanau, and illustration of the enduring strength and relevance of waiata, korero, ta moko and tikanga Maori.”

A great joy since the reopening of City Gallery Wellington late last year has been the high standard of exhibitions in the new Deane Gallery.  In an upper chamber dedicated to emerging Maori and Pacific Island artists, curator Reuben Friend has demonstrated a keen eye for fresh engaging new work, arranged in strong sensitive conversation with each other, in a limited space.

A case in point currently is Leilani Kake’s moving three-part documentary video work Tino Rangatira Tanga. It’s an intimate portrait of her father and whanau, and illustration of the enduring strength and relevance of waiata, korero, ta moko and tikanga Maori. In Kake’s family such things are part of the rich fabric of ordinary contemporary Maori life. From the exhibition title through to the words of waiata the personal is shown to always be political, making plain the need for self-detemination for an iwi as a people, and whanau as a group.

A graduate of the Manukau Institute’s School of Visual Arts, Kake started following the activities of her father Richard Kake as a rangatira or elder (descended from a great Nga Puhi ariki) with her camera, after filming him as part of Nga Puhi’s representation in the Foreshore and Seabed hikoi to parliament in 2004. The work however ended up taking a far more personal and painful path – it starts with her father receiving a full facial moko and ends with her at his deathbed and tangihanga, four years later.

The work is deliberately, and often uncomfortably, intimate for both viewer and artist. The camera is hand held, and as if in the wharenui we are seated close together, and close too to the three walls on which the work is projected. In this way Kake explores the power of the personal being played out publicly in a way which feels completely unvoyeuristic.

With a cry of “I love you Dad” as the camera comes in as close as possible to the drawing of blood from the skin of the face, the close relationship between daughter and father is made directly clear as the video work and ta moko begins. Meanwhile the family give strength and love through singing and chanting.

The tattooing is followed by a korero from Richard Kake (notably the only korero not in song in the work), and then a celebration with more song. However we then move directly to Kake’s deathbed, family singing Bob Marley’s Redemption Song by his bedside, with the Kake version featuring the refrain: ‘is this all we’ll ever have, self-determination song’. From there it’s onto the tangihanga where, in as powerful a choral group as you could hope to hear, waiata before the coffin in the wharenui gives full flight to emotion. The work closes with a slide show of family photographs.

Works this intimate are rarely this touching or rich in political and cultural pull. Structurally it’s a smart, distinctive piece of storytelling, that moves with lightness from one moment to another. It allows Maori concepts and Leilani Kake’s involvement within the story itself to provide a frame. For her the creation of the work was part of grieving and healing process. Yet not only does the work have the universal charge of the sentiments in a Nga Puhi waiata ‘Don’t hold onto anger, here is another day’, its viewpoint of Maori counters that of the news media’s camera – which gets left at the wharenui door, and often leads you to associate moko with aggression, rather than love and self-determination.

Read more on The Big Idea

Exhibition opening audience

Leilani Kake with Curator Maori + Pacific, Reuben Friend


Leilani and I at the opening in Wellington (April 2010)

The Van Formally Known As Madonna

The A Team | Monty Collins, Tanu Gago, Luisa Tora, Ema Tavola, Sangeeta Singh & Brett Stirling (not pictured)

More photos from the Fresh Gallery Otara / 2010 Manukau Pacific Arts Summit custom van painting at the 35th ASB Polyfest in Otara, Manukau City, Aotearoa New Zealand
(20 March 2010)

The making of BIG LEGS (2009)

I made this drawing into a large scale textile installation for BLOOD + BONE, my first solo exhibition in December 2009. It was installed hanging from the first floor balcony of the St Kevins Arcade atrium on Karangahape Road in central Auckland.

Made from 10 ounce canvas duck, the work hands at around 4.5 meters long and approximately 2.4 meters wide. Black outlines were created through hemming the edges with a tight black zig-zag stitch. Detail of the jandal / flip-flops was created through machine sewn applique of black cotton commonly used in Cook Islands tivaevae quilt making, sourced from Fare Pareu in Otahuhu, south Auckland.

BIG LEGS (2009) is a self portrait.

The work is made to be viewed from the front primarily – it is not lined so the back has exposed stitching and drafting lines.

The work was attached with bulldog clips to a length of rope tied to the supports of the bannisters surrounding the atrium first floor balcony. Hanging down from the first floor to the ground floor, the work moved in the breeze and was visible from Karangahape Road.

Thank you to Leilani Kake and Luisa Tora for their support, feedback, time and energy in helping me to install the work.