Water and Politics

I try to swim at least four times a week. My local recreation centre has a reliably cold outdoor pool and in South Auckland, we have been fortunate to have free access to swimming pools. I swim as the sun is setting, I like the light, and the quiet; I often have the pool to myself.

After I’ve warmed up, and my body stops struggling against the cold, I start to observe my own silence. Being in between the water and the sky, I’m aware and alert. I hear differently, and smell differently, and think deeply.

Today, the singing from a church group at Otara Music Arts Centre across the road was vigorous. Perhaps a significantly large congregation, or a special occasion – the doors must have been wide open. I could hear individual voices, I could hear their faith.

Last week I could smell an umu. I was interviewed for an article a few years ago and spoke about one of the things I love about Otara being the haze of umu smoke on Christmas day. I think I was probably exaggerating, but the smell of umu or lovo, is happiness – memories of family, celebrations, love, land, home – and all from a smell.

I resigned two weeks ago from my job of more than six years. I’ve worked in the ‘change environment’ for almost half of that time. Considering my future and contemplating my own ‘change environment’ has effected my outlook in a big way. At times, everything is different – how I walk in different spaces, my language… my perspective. I’m emotional, and final. I see clearer, but also feel like I’m seeing things for the first time.

With news of a New Zealand local government reform, that will certainly affect the services I benefit from as a ratepayer in South Auckland, and my own professional change environment, it’s the moments in the pool – where I swim for free, every second day – that I reflect on what feels like the end of a golden era.

Sadly, with leaders like this, informing change that will inevitably disenfranchise some of the country’s most vulnerable sectors, migration has never looked so appealing.

 

Resignation and Change

By the time I leave my job, I will have given six years and six months of service to local government in South Auckland.

Whilst the organisation I work for has been in the throws of corporate transition,  change and transformation for almost half of that time, I now find myself deep within my own personal transition. I am filled with clarity and determination, emotional with nostalgia and excited and scared to step boldly towards the unknown.

Nostalgic and emotionally bonded through literally blood, sweat and tears to Fresh Gallery Otara. What many term, my ‘baby’ – Fresh has been my everything for six years. By the time I leave, I will have overseen 66 exhibitions and too many gatherings and events to count.

It is the right time to leave. The last show I will curate will be WWJD – the Gallery’s 6th anniversary exhibition that honours Jim Vivieaere. I’m really proud of this show – I know it will be visually exciting and conceptually strong, but most importantly, the community will love it. It opens on Thursday 10 May, and whilst I’ve said it for many years now, there ain’t no opening like a Fresh Gallery Otara opening, I envisage that this opening will be really, really special.

In 2008, a young art school graduate named Nicole Lim joined the Fresh family. Nicole and I went through the University of Auckland Bachelor of Visual Arts programme delivered by Manukau School of Visual Arts, now the Faculty of Creative Arts at Manukau Institute of Technology. We clicked and were on the same page from day one. I always joke that Nicole is my right brain – the logical, the mathematical, the long-term memory – I have most probably got that scientifically confused, but in essence, Nicole has become the ying to my bureaucratic yang. With Nicole on board, Fresh went into second gear, and then third… we work so well as a team, I will miss that so, so much. I am filled with pride and happiness to see Nicole curating her first show outside of Fresh Gallery Otara, 2 for 1 opens next week at St Paul St Gallery 3:

I know I will call Fresh, just to hear her say “Fresh Gallery Otara, speaky Nicole!” in her sweet fobby voice! LMAO! Sorry Nicole :’D You’ll probably just hear deep breathing then a quiet sob.. I promise I’ll try not to do that everyday! 😀

This transition time for me is half grief, half happiness, total love and respect for what has been, and superb clarity in who I am and why I do what I do.

I’ve been sitting in meetings recently, feeling like a wolf in sheep’s clothing – being a “curator” but thinking like an activist. Speaking up for artists, but asserting a firm position on [post-]colonial power struggles and institutional racism. Taking the hits, fighting the fight, doing the work of too many individuals… I’m so tired.

I had to speak to my father yesterday morning, to give me some words to get me through another day. We discussed anger, and calmness… being positive, being part of a solution, not a problem. He told me to read the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi, that he has often recited to me. I put it on my phone and read it throughout the day. And it helped.

Last night I attended the opening of Identi-Tee – a new exhibition about T-shirts at the Auckland Museum. I was so impressed – those in attendance represented such an excellent cross-section of the Pacific community here in Auckland right now. I loved the video Janet Lilo was commissioned to create – it reminded me how much I’ve loved working with Janet over the years. Janet’s cousin, Lorna, who has become a great friend, and Lorna’s partner Peter being part of this project made me smile from ear to ear.


I love being around the objects in the Pacific collection at the Auckland Museum – the feeling of closeness to one’s past, land, history, ancestry, is real. I love the Fijian war weaponry and the way it’s displayed. It felt nice being there for an event like this, the main atrium area was filled with Pacific people, voices, laughter and music, and we were surrounded by our objects and our history.

I ended the night sitting on Mission Bay beach with my colleague and dear friend, Nigel Borell. The air was cool, the moon was full and the water was completely calm. Nigel and I have worked closely for three years and getting SOUTH off the ground this year was a great achievement. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, I’m so proud of what we have achieved together.

I’ll post more on my plans moving forward… my next chapter is looking pretty exciting!

SOUTH is here!!

SOUTH is a publication I have co-edited with my colleague, Nigel Borell; we work as the Māori and Pacific arts coordinators for Arts and Culture South, Auckland Council. This is a project we have been working on for two years and have finally… FINALLY… made it to this point.

As curators and arts administrators, Nigel and I have produced numerous small, medium and large scale publications for Māori and Pacific arts exhibitions and events in South Auckland. We always engage primarily with Māori and Pacific writers, artists and commentators, and wanted to create a publication that highlighted the wealth of arts activity, commentary and writing that is emanating from South Auckland.

Issue 1 of SOUTH is a beautifully designed 44-page journal-book-magazine. We endeavor to publish SOUTH twice a year, holding launch parties at Fresh Gallery Otara.

This first issue is being launched at Fresh Gallery Otara on Thursday 26 January (6-9pm) alongside the opening of I don’t wanna talk about it – a solo exhibition by Otahuhu-based painter, Molly Rangiwai-McHale, who is also a contributor to this issue.

If you’d like a copy of SOUTH, email Nicole Lim at Fresh Gallery OtaraSOUTH is free!

Issue 1 features:

  • Exhibition overview of 18-year-old Waylan Tupaea-Petero’s first solo show, Kāinga Tūturu – Calling Home
  • Photo essay about tattooist Capilli Apelu Tupou
  • Page works by Daniel Tautua, Cerisse Palalagi and Molly Rangiwai-McHale
  • An in-depth artist Profile of Rebecca Ann Hobbs
  • Responses to Ngaru Roa, the 2011 National Rangatahi Art Conference, Auckland Art Fair,  Māori Market and the newly refurbished Auckland Art Gallery.
  • A tribute to the Cook Islands curator, Jim Vivieaere
  • An excellent interview between Parris Goebel of Request Dance Crew and Coco Solid
  • Photography by Raymond Sagapolutele (including our cover shot of Tattooist Capilli Apelu Tupou’s hands) and Vinesh Kumaran

#PolySwag
#BooomBahhhng
#TeamSOUTHSIDE

#JustSaying

😉

Fresh 2012 – it’s a new era…

Fresh Gallery Otara is going through some changes this year! More information to come. In the meantime, the January – August exhibition programme is locked in and lookin’ mighty fine!

This year kicks off with I don’t wanna talk about it – a solo exhibition by Otahuhu-based painter, Molly Rangiwai-McHale. I’ve liked Molly’s work since we were at art school together. Her paintings are big and sassy, strong and so, so bold. On the same night we open Molly’s show, we launch SOUTH – a new Māori and Pacific arts publication celebrating South Auckland. SOUTH is an epic project I’ve undertaken with my colleague Nigel Borell. We’re SO excited to launch Issue 1 – more on that to come too!

I don’t wanna talk about it runs from 27 January – 25 February. Molly’s artist talk is from 12pm on Saturday 11 February.

Avanoa o Tama is Tanu Gago‘s second solo exhibition. The exhibition is a follow-up from his highly successful 2010/11 series, Jerry the Fa’afafine first shown at City Gallery Wellington and now on permanent display at Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku in South Auckland.

Avanoa o Tama is a photographic series that looks at the cultural assignment of gender identity in regard to social and cultural expectation amongst men of Pacific diaspora. Concerned with representation and codes of gender this work explores a spectrum of masculine identity among literal and conceptual cultural spaces. The conceptual spaces refer to the grey areas where gender and sexuality tread an ambiguous line between the typical and the unexpected.

These spaces are often occupied by Fa’afafine and gay Pacific males. In this instance this space is shared with other heterosexual Polynesian and Melanesian males. As an artist I am interested to see what is exposed about our public perceptions of gender and sexuality when these codes of gender deviate from cultural and social norms and how this reflects on our own cultural sensibilities and notions of tolerance and understanding.”

I can’t wait to see Tanu’s new body of work. This is one of his working images that I love:

Avanoa o Tama runs from 2-31 March, Tanu’s artist talk takes place from 12pm on Saturday 17 March, which btw is a FANTASTIC day to come to South Auckland – it’s the Otara Market AND the final day of the ASB Polyfest – the premier New Zealand Pacific arts event on my calendar!

In April we open Generation – a joint show between Northland sculptor Will Ngakuruand his Auckland-based son, Ammon Ngakuru.

“Ammon’s paintings seek to explore the relationship between everyday personal situations and situations portrayed as regular through popular television and media. ‘Generation’ could relate to this in the sense that television and media generate ideas and normality which effect us on a personal level.

Will creates works that both challenge and inform using wood, stone, metal and clay, he has created a body of work titled ‘Intergenerational healing’ past, present and future expressed through sculpture.”

Generation runs from 6 April – 5 May.

I’m so excited about WWJD – a group show I’m curating for Fresh Gallery Otara’s 6th anniversary in May. WWJD honours the work of the late Cook Islands curator, Jim Vivieaere (1947-2011); the title is based on a tribute I wrote to Jim not long after his death. This group show is an opportunity to reflect on Fresh Gallery Otara’s pioneering role in showcasing new Pacific art that challenges, engages and reflects on the unique socio-political context of Otara, South Auckland and Oceania. More on WWJD to come!

WWJD runs from 11 May – 23 June with the curatorial floor talk at 12pm on Saturday 26 May. It is a central event within the 2012 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit (3-31 May) and more associated events will be announced soon!

The work shown here is Otara at night (2011), a single-channel video work by Rebecca Ann Hobbs filmed in the Otara Town Centre featuring dancer Amelia Lynch. I can’t wait to present this work in Otara for the first time!

A signature event of Matariki Festival 2012 is the Te Taumata Exhibition Series which this year is guest curated by Ngahiraka Mason. The initiative celebrates excellence in Maori visual arts, with a series of exhibitions by a selection of Aotearoa’s most exciting new and established artists in galleries across Auckland.  The talented photographer Aimee Ratana has been invited to present an installation of new work in her first exhibition at Fresh Gallery Otara. And it’s really… really hot!!

Te Taumata at Fresh runs from 6 July – 4 August with an artist floor talk on Saturday 7 July at 12pm.

After August, there’s some exciting changes underfoot for Fresh, so watch this space for more info!

Drop Nicole Lim an email to be added to the Fresh Gallery Otara mailing list, or follow Fresh on Twitter: @Fresh274

The Paradise Economy


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

THE PARADISE ECONOMY

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

Hand Made Exhibition // DRAWING SOUTH AUCKLAND

DRAWING SOUTH AUCKLAND was a user-generated drawing installation that was developed at Fresh Gallery Otara over three weeks in November 2010. The gallery’s community was invited to make drawings to be part of a constantly evolving mural-in-pieces. It stands as a fascinating insight into the lives and times of the community surrounding Fresh Gallery Otara. Over 400 drawings were made with over 300 installed on the Gallery’s walls. Censorship applied to explicit gang associated and/or pornographic/offensive imagery and tagging.

Some of my favourite drawings:


This is one of many drawings by Fa’a, he’s 11 years old and goes to St John The Evangelist School in Otara.


Unknown artist.


Tanu Gago contributed some Jerry The Fa’afafine


Unknown artist.

Click here for a full album of photographic documentation of DRAWING SOUTH AUCKLAND

Click here to follow Fresh Gallery Otara on Twitter

The Young Kila Writers

Empowering young Pacific writers to take the plunge and write their first play, Kila Kokonut Krew, the South Auckland based theatre and entertainment company, has supported three new KILA WRITERS including the excellent Leilani Salesa.

The Young Kila Writers Play Readings take place this Sunday 19 September at Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku. Just $10 on the door.

Curating Pacific Art Forum

We’re drawing closer to the end of the inaugural Manukau Pacific Art Summit. The Curating Pacific Art Forum draws together Pacific curators from around New Zealand to discuss, demystify and stimulate the Pacific curatorial sector. Guest speaker, Professor Konai Helu-Thaman from the University of the South Pacific is a enormous assest to this event. The venue of the Fo Guang Shan North Island Buddhist Temple should be a beautiful setting for some forward thinking and inspiration…

Registrations still welcome… please contact Brett Stirling, contact details can be found on the Manukau Pacific Arts Summit website

Farewelling Fresh…

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!

:’)