HUMP DAY ART TALKS: The Art Game

Speaking at the exciting dialogue event, HUMP DAY ART TALKS in South Auckland this week, I decided to write a presentation based on a song I love called Ten Crack Commandments by Notorious B.I.G, who would have turned 40 this week. HUMP DAY ARTS TALKS was presented by MIT Faculty of Creative Arts with special support from Ngati Arty, the Maori and Pacific student association. Thank you for the opportunity!

I also had to speak before John Tui, the Tongan actor from South Auckland who has just starred in the Hollywood blockbuster, Battleship alongside Rihanna!


WARNING: THIS PAPER CONTAINS OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE.

[Intro music: Ten Crack Commandments by The Notorious B.I.G]

I fell in love with hip hop when it felt like an angry but empowered voice coming from young black men and women, living through hardship and inequality inextricably related to their histories as oppressed, enslaved, displaced people.

Hip hop has evolved and stratified beyond recognition in many cases. Mainstream hip hop today, which has merged and morphed in the centre of popular culture, is something I am not in love with. Over the past few years, witnessing the change and my love dissipate, I’ve become nostalgic for the hip hop era which feels real to me.

To cut a long story short, I’m going to give you my Ten Crack Commandments, based on, inspired by and loosely interpreted through this song.

I love the Notorious B.I.G but we have differences. Firstly, I am not homophobic and in fact have zero tolerance for homophobia in any part of my life. Secondly, I have never and do not currently sell crack.

However, I am not without my faults. I have been known to be a little bit racist, and I am also known in some circles as Pimpi, reflective of the way in which I represent, advocate and endorse artists in the visual arts industry here in Aotearoa.

To introduce the Commandments, Biggies says:

I been in this game for years, it made me an animal
Its rules to this shit, I wrote me a manual
A step by step booklet for you to get
Your game on track, not your wig pushed back

Like Biggie, I’ve been involved with art for years. It was the only thing I excelled in at school, and eventually, I made it to University. I’ve been studying, living and working Pacific art here in South Auckland for the past 10 years.

I’ve made mistakes: trusted the wrong people, been indulgent with… everything, been hospitalised, traumatised, I’ve stabbed backs and been backstabbed, had fights, caused fights, broken hearts, blown budgets, thrown shit, written shit, fallen over but gotten back up. Every time.

My manual is about what I’ve learnt from making mistakes and watching other people make mistakes around me.

Rule nombre uno: Never let no one know,
How much dough you hold, cause you know
The cheddar breed jealousy ‘specially
If that man fuck up, got your ass stuck up

I interpret this in two ways, the first being – never put all your cards on the table at once. Leave people guessing, to some extent – leave them anticipating your next move. Whether this is in terms of networking or arts practice, you want to sustain relationships in this game, so you need to be memorable and be someone who people want to see more of, hear more about… get to know.

Secondly, people with good ideas attract all sorts – some want to help you, some want to drain you. Be careful who you discuss your ideas with – remember when it’s just an idea, anyone can take it and make it their own. Just be careful who you trust.

Number two: Never let em know your next move
Don’t you know Bad Boys move in silence or violence
Take it from Your Highness (uh-huh)
I done squeezed mad clips at these cats for they bricks and chips

When Biggie says Bad Boys, I think of agents of colonial infrastructure maintaining power and control over indigenous people and minority communities. Institutional racism is rife in New Zealand – it is so ingrained that it is silent and so harmful that it is violent, even more so under National Party leadership.

I have never killed for my cause, but I take great pleasure in intellectually knee-capping bureaucrats around board tables in the ivory towers of both local and central government.

Number three: never trust no-bo-dy
Your moms’ll set that ass up, properly gassed up
Hoodie to mask up, shit, for that fast buck
she be layin in the bushes to light that ass up

Whilst my mum is my biggest fan, this one is about trust.

On a positive note, you only need to be burnt once, maybe twice to really think hard about who you trust.

Everyone has their own agenda and it’s a dog eat dog world. Even in the arts.

Number four: know you heard this before
Never get high, on your own supply


One of my personal learnings is to not try and wear two hats at the same time. It’s hard to be a curator and be an artist in your own show. As it would be hard to produce and direct or star in dance, theatre or film. It’s best to focus on doing one thing well, and surrounding yourself with good people who can be trusted to do the work that needs to be done to your standards.

Number five: never sell no crack where you rest at
I don’t care if they want a ounce, tell em bounce

This is a personal one, concerned with work-life balance. Art can be all consuming – sometimes you might realise that you go to school with the same people your making work with, who are the same people you drink with, and sometimes the same people you fight with and sometimes sleep with. Great projects can come from this kind of commitment, but from my experience, it’s good to spend some time outside of this world. Thinking differently, relating to people differently… seeing differently. I think it’s healthy to have boundaries of where art stops and the rest of your life can breathe.

Number six: that god damn credit, dead it
You think a crackhead payin you back, shit forget it

Don’t do shit for people who aren’t going to reciprocate. Sometimes reciprocation is just an acknowledgement, a genuine gesture of thanks and appreciation. Sometimes it could have more value – professionally or financially.

Don’t get used, your creative services and skills have value especially once you are trained, disciplined and qualified. If you’re unsure about your value or the value of things you’re doing for other people, talk to artists who have been around for longer.

Seven: this rule is so underrated
Keep your family and business completely seperated

Money and blood don’t mix like two dicks and no bitch
Find yourself in serious shit

Minus the homophobia, I like to extend this rule from family to famz. I don’t have any direct family here in New Zealand, so my close friends are famz to me – they have my back, support me, encourage me, cry with me and pick me up from prison / hospital / court whatever. I love them. Thing is, I have a condition that I love to help people out and will invest myself fully in this task.  And this doesn’t work well with art projects. Friendships and relationships in general are affected when expectations and reality drift too far apart and two parties are not on the same page.

For me, money and blood don’t mix like the National Party and Good Leadership.

This rule also applies to nepotism. When you’ve been burnt by two people who are genetically or emotionally loyal to each other over you or a project, you grow weary of working with siblings or husbands and wives. Bottom line, relationships in a project should be clear and free from personal baggage, as much as possible.

Number eight: never keep no weight on you
Them cats that squeeze your guns can hold jobs too

Keep your practice clean and transparent. The arts industry in Aotearoa is small and bad reputations, shady practices, debt and dishonesty are like bad smells that follow you around. For middle men like me, working as a curator and advisor on decisions about who gets opportunities and funding, it’s important that what is known about you online and off, is not going to compromise where you want to go in this industry. For people like me, it is my business to know about artists – I talk, investigate, enquire, google, tweet – and I call on other people like me who expand the knowledge catching net even further.

Number nine shoulda been number one to me
If you ain’t gettin bags stay the fuck from police (uh-huh)
If niggaz think you snitchin ain’t tryin listen
They be sittin in your kitchen, waitin to start hittin

So… sometimes the relationship between crack and professional practice in the art world gets a little thin! Not snitching, staying away from Police… well, you should just try and do these things in life in general!

Number ten: a strong word called consignment
Strictly for live men, not for freshmen
If you ain’t got the clientele say hell no
Cause they gon want they money rain sleet hail snow

If someone asks you to do something, be realistic – you have to learn from projects truly going pear shaped for this one to be really  real, but if I can just drop any words of wisdom, I would just say think within your means.

You can rely on funding when you have a solid project and you’re backed up by people in the know, with standing in the community, but if funding is a blind shot – be realistic. Don’t commit and get commitment on a project that will cause serious problems if it goes ahead without the funding.

Or worse still, if you get funding and the project doesn’t happen and the money gets spent in other ways, your reputation can get discredited. If you don’t repay money to lenders or funders, you can get dragged through Baycorp or Court… you don’t want that.

Thanks for listening.

Hair, Summit, May…

No time to blog, write, think… the time leading up to the Pacific Arts Summit is always crazy.
And producing the Summit this year with zero Marketing support has been very FML-frustrating.

My final show at Fresh Gallery Otara opens to the public on Friday 11 May – I can’t wait.

A component of this project is The Polyfest Hair Project, a photographic series shot by Vinesh Kumaran at the ASB Polyfest last month. The photos are on the Pacific Arts Summit Facebook and generating some good attention. Check them out here.

Summit programmes are at Art Centres and Libraries in South Auckland. If you’re outside of South AKL, check out the Pacific Arts Summit blog for details: 2012PacificArtsSummit.wordpress.com

The 3rd South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit (4-31 May)

I’m excited to be overseeing the third South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit in May, the last project I’ll be involved in before leaving my role. The poster design process has been another thoroughly inspiring creative collaboration with Edgar Melitao at The Kitchen Media.

The Pacific Arts Summit poster brochure will be out by the end of March at Arts facilities around the Auckland region. The Summit is delivered from 4-31 May in the South Auckland suburbs of Mangere, Manukau, Otara and Papakura.

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!

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

Inside a curator’s bag…

My colleague Nigel Borell is a fellow curator and the co-editor of SOUTH. His man bag is always by his side. Every now and then I’ve picked it up and marveled at how heavy it is. This is what this curator has with him at all times: Work phone, personal phone (iPhone), camera, rain jacket, unchecked Lotto tickets, 5 USB memory sticks, keys, 2 McDonald’s plastic spoons, business cards, breath mints, hair product, coin purse, sunblock, 4 pens and green highlighter, New Zealand passport, meds, lint brush, name tags, a badge that says Wakey Wakey Wakey, miniature Givenchy cologne, exhibition and event paraphernalia (for days), a watch, sunglass case, sunglass lens cleaner, miniature screwdriver set, hair ties, lip balm, moisteriser, headphones, a David Dallas CD… and a wallet.

Woahh… 😀

Nimamea’a: The Fine Arts of Tongan Embroidery and Crochet

 

Nimamea’a: The Fine Arts of Tongan Embroidery and Crochet is derived from an exhibition first shown at Fresh Gallery Otara in April / May 2010. Very proud to see it reframed within the context of Objectspace, a very exciting gallery in central Auckland dedicated to craft, applied arts and design.

Well done curators Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai and Manuēsina ‘Ofa-ki-Hautolo Māhina and HUGE RESPECT to the fine artists involved, Lingisiva ‘Aloua, Kolokesa Kulīkefu, Lupe Mahe, Tu’utanga Hunuhunu Māhina, Falesiu Siu Noma, ‘Ofa-ki-Nu’usila Talakia’atu and Manuēsina Tonata.

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

#KadavuPower

Fiji women were 100% present at the recent UNICEF Youth Congress held at Te Manukanuka o Hoturoa Marae in Auckland. I spoke in a panel about art as a platform for social activism, after sessions by Sainimere Veitata, Co-chair of the Econesian Society at the University of the South Pacific (Suva, Fiji) and Merewalesi Nailatikau, UNICEF Regional Goodwill Ambassador. Merewalesi was crowned Miss Hibiscus and went on to be the first Fijian woman to take out the Polynesian-dominated Miss South Pacific beauty pageant in 2009. She is brains + beauty in a big way!

My South Auckland comrade, Luisa Tora, came to support. Luisa and I are working on an upcoming project to commemorate Fiji Day in the South Auckland suburb of Otahuhu. In an exhibition of posters featuring artwork by 7 Fiji women artists, diasporadic679 will be installed in the windows and public spaces of 6 venues over 9 days. The numerical reference is to Fiji’s international telephone prefix.

The exhibition will be part of the newly re-branded Southside Arts Festival (previously Manukau Festival of Arts) which runs from 14 October – 6 November 2011.

diasporadic679 takes its name partly from Luisa Tora’s made-in-South-Auckland zine, diasporadic and represents an ongoing relationship between Fiji women artists Sangeeta Singh, Margaret Aull, Torika Bolatagici, Dulcie Stewart, Tagi Qolouvaki, Luisa and myself.

The diasporadic679 blog has just been established and will be updated daily leading up to the project which runs from 17-25 October.

WWJD: What Would Jim Do?

I took this photo in 2009. I was visiting Tracey Tawhiao’s salon on the first floor of St Kevin’s Arcade to get specs for two exhibitions I produced there that year. And Jim popped in, and we sat in the afternoon sun and caught up.

Jim Vivieaere passed away on Friday 3 June 2011. I heard through cell phones and text messages and I cried all afternoon. Jim was pivotal in my life and thinking, my work in exhibitions, advocacy and curating.

Under Jim’s guidance, I got my first taste of curating assisting him to produce a show called Niu Dialogue in 2004 at The Edge in central Auckland. I remember feeling so excited after that gig, because I felt like he gave me the trade secrets, the ‘how to’ of curating… I observed how he selected works, considered them in the space, his gracious hosting, his beautiful themed catering, his aura. He was awesome. I feel like that experience ignited my fire for curating and the artform and importance of representing artists.

During my undergraduate studies, I researched Jim’s curatorial and visual arts practice; it represented to me a bold and articulate statement about Pacific diaspora experience. His work and its recognition in mainstream institutions, publications and communities, was so empowering and validating. At the time, Jim was also supporting the exhibition of student work from Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate at Otara’s Artnet Gallery (now Fresh Gallery Otara). I witnessed him working with the same measure of professionalism and artistic integrity at the grassroots as he did in major art institutions.

In 2010, I organised the Curating Pacific Art Forum and Jim spoke with such eloquence about his practice and the struggles and opportunities of working as an independent curator.

We all acknowledged Jim that day. An absolute leader in curating Pacific art.

I loved how hard Jim would fight to impress a point, whether at an exhibition opening or a Tautai Trust gathering… he was such an inspirational, passionate advocate for Pacific art and artists.

This year, I was so humbled that even in ill-health, Jim attended the 2nd Curating Pacific Art Forum. It was noted that we all have ‘Jim stories’ – the many, many ways Jim has influenced our lives and practices as Pacific curators.

Jim’s passing has made me reflect hard. I’ve been thinking about how everything matters… the legacy that is left from the work we do will influence and inspire those that come after.

I feel like my curatorial practice is the product of Jim’s influence, and I want to honour his work and fight in everything I produce.

I think I’ll always think of Jim, in every show that I curate and ask myself, What Would Jim Do?

A beautiful tribute to Jim on Tagata Pasifika [TVNZ] aired on Thursday 9 June 2011