Congratulations MIT Faculty of Creative Arts graduates!

I was asked to be the guest speaker at the Manukau Institute of Technology Faculty of Creative Arts 2011 Graduation. A massive privilege… I thought back to my own graduation in 2006. And feel grateful for the loving support of my parents.

This was my speech:


Ni sa bula vinaka,

I feel most privileged to have the opportunity to address you on this prestigious occasion. I don’t remember the keynote speaker at my own graduation because I was so overwhelmed on the day; my family had travelled from Fiji and I was surrounded by the same excited and anxious energy emanating from all the graduating students around me. I have since then supported many of my friends at their graduations, listened intently to the speakers and shared that moment of complete satisfaction. No matter your struggles and challenges in your years of study, getting through, getting here, to this point, is all that matters.

Tonight we celebrate your achievement. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you all on the small things that have got you to this day. Small as they seem, it’s the baby steps which count. Congratulations for waking up on time. For attending class. Congratulations for thinking, responding and investing in your mind, and congratulations for taking the bold step of making art, wanting to be an artist, and energising your innate creative ability.

There are things we learn on our tertiary journeys that only become truly valuable when we enter the world and the workforce after art school. You have learnt how to meet deadlines, to develop, implement and review projects. You have learnt skills in research and analysis, and you have developed and honed your voice. To be taught and to learn are skills that will enrich your life. Art school is a wonderful mix of personalities and perhaps unconsciously, you have developed in small ways your communication skills, open mindedness and tolerance.

It’s important to know that qualifications alone will not open doors to dream jobs. A qualification can demonstrate commitment and a specific skill set, but doors open for people with plans. I encourage you all to think about where this qualification sits in your big picture. What would you be doing in this life if money wasn’t an issue – what makes you happy?

If a qualification in creative arts is a step in the right direction, what else needs to be done to get you to where you want to be. Think big, write it down, create goals and put your head down and work. Before you know it, your plan will be manifesting before your eyes. There will be highs and lows on your journey, but for every failure there is momentary pain and long-term learning. Believe me, this is true.

When you have a plan, getting through the day, facing challenges and braving the unknown become manageable. Everything you do becomes part of a focused trajectory. You will work harder, invest yourself fully and emanate an air of drive and determination and THIS is what opens doors.

The reality is that jobs in the creative sector are few and far between. This is why it is crucial to acknowledge that your tertiary training isn’t ‘teaching you how to be an artist’, but teaching you how to hone your creativity, empower your voice and practice universal skills applicable to the workforce. Your challenge after art school is to turn your skills and creativity into currency.

Innovation and innovative thinking is in hot demand in many industries. Creative minds are curious and have the potential to think about problem solving in new and valuable ways. The key to making a creative arts qualification work for you is to find ways that your creative thinking can be applied to money-making or career-building opportunities. We only hone our abilities by experience, and opportunities to do this come in all forms.

Within the context of your big picture plan, I encourage you to maximise on every opportunity that crosses your path. By building our experience – personal, professional and artistic – we learn what we’re good at and what we’re not!

Jobs may be scarce – we often have to simply do what we can. If a 9 to 5 job isn’t feeding your creative soul, invest your personal time in projects that develop your creative practice. Exhibit as much as possible, keep drawing, writing, blogging and performing. Attend openings and events and hone your networking skills. If you don’t have a blog, start one immediately! Document your practice, your experiences, your influences, engage people with your creative journey. Remember, opportunities to develop your creative practice aren’t always formal, or in the case of visual arts, in galleries – church banners count! Illustrations in zines count! Online exhibitions count! Document it all and grow a community of appreciators around you.

From one graduate to another, let me assure you that when the IRD start taking your student loan payments out of your pay, it stings. When you’re working 9 to 5 and having a significant part of your wages automatically deducted to pay for that qualification, you think a lot about art school. Take it from me, after 6 years of paying off my student loan, art school is not a time to mess around. I feel old saying “We didn’t have Facebook in my day”, but it’s the truth and I acknowledge the new modes of procrastination can be seriously addictive.

Don’t waste this time. You can fall in love, be heartbroken, party hard, experience loss and pain, but don’t waste time. You’re at school to learn, not to socialise. You’re at school to increase your opportunities in life, to give hope to your family. And art school is a privilege.

We live in a country where artists can apply for public funds to make art; exhibitions and arts events happen almost every day of the year, much of which is free. We’re a small country with a big reputation on the world stage and opportunities to travel, engage, participate, show and develop your creative practice are abundant. But the competition is fierce.

Getting an arts education in South Auckland is a double-edged sword; on one hand, we are geographically and socially dislocated from the wider creative sector. On the other hand, we have a competitive advantage – what we make and develop in relative isolation is bold and innovative, informed often unconsciously by our unique socio-political and cultural context.

Armed with your qualification and a foundation in thinking creatively, I challenge you to treat tomorrow as Day 1 of the next chapter of your creative career. Write down your goals, dream big and reflect on what makes you happy. Be open to advice and opportunities. Be confident. Be nice – the art world is small, reputations often precede you. And perhaps most importantly, be hungry – hungry to get to where you want to be, hungry to be heard, hungry to keep developing and learning. Know that wherever you go, in whatever field, your creativity is within you, and has enormous potential. Remember South Auckland, remember Z Block – and don’t be a stranger.

Good luck and go well,

Vinaka vakalevu.

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The DIASPORADIC679 T-shirt

This is one very sexy T-shirt! It features a logo / coat of arms developed by graphic artist, Nicole Lim, based on a painting by Luisa Tora. It was created for the exhibition diasporadic679 – an exhibition that takes the form of posters installed in shop windows in Otahuhu, South Auckland. Check the blog for more information: http://diasporadic679.wordpress.com

The diasporadic679 T-shirt is beautifully printed by South Auckland’s excellent PopoHardWear – the logo is gold, large-scale and fabulous. The T-shirts support the exhibition project costs and are only NZD40.

Please contact Nicole Lim at Fresh Gallery Otara for sales enquiries or drop in between 10am – 5pm, Tuesday – Friday; 8am – 2pm, Saturdays.

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

New Work // Union JACKnSLAVE (2011)

Union JACKnSLAVE (2011)
Graphite on paper
350x350mm (framed)

The plastic bag is an analogy for the idea of a treaty.

The function of the plastic bag is not new; but the material was introduced. It is functional, but has limitations. It is flexible but easily manipulated and used to cause harm.

The plastic bag presents a significant environmental hazard and takes 1000 years on average to break down. Alternatives are becoming increasingly popular.

The term ‘jack’ in urban slang can be used to mean ‘to steal or take from an unsuspecting person’. I have long been interested in ideas of nationhood and power. The Union Jack marks the colonial empire – a system built on power, domination and privilege.

This work has been made for an upcoming exhibition to commemorate Waitangi Day called TREATY ISSUES curated by Gabrielle Belz for Nathan Homestead, Manurewa, South Auckland (28 January – 19 February)