“This Must Be The Place” curated by Jeremy Leatinu’u

Untitled (Tuiga) by Aaron Unasa
Constructed with found objects

Some works stood out for me at the annual Tautai Trust tertiary students exhibition at Auckland’s St Paul St Gallery. The exhibition, This Must Be The Place has been curated by Samoan performance artist and educator, Jeremy Leatinu’u. It feels like a tight show, almost educational – I liked it a lot more than past tertiary student exhibitions.

Since my first trip to Samoa in 2010, I have been fascinated with tuiga (ceremonial head dress) and have wanted to curate an exhibition of tuiga in their various forms. I really enjoyed Aaron Unasa’s tuiga made from found objects.

Untitled (Nifo’oti), Aaron Unasa

I like reading rooms / reading tables, but I was disappointed that Alana Lopesi didn’t show the work she had posted on her blog. It felt like a bold statement about the current exhibition Home AKL at Auckland Art Gallery – Pacific artists making critical commentary about the world around them excite me. But I’m definitely watching Lopesi’s practice as it develops.

The exhibition is up until Friday 27 July – check it out.

 

Changing the Game and Junior Seau

I have been so moved by the story and tragic death of Junior Seau. My sports obsessed partner has told me at length about the important pathway Junior created for other Pacific Islanders to play professional football at the highest level. He said Junior was a game changer. I’m not generally interested in sports, but I am interested in Pacific people and leadership, Pacific achievement, diaspora and struggle. I watch the YouTube tributes to Junior with a very heavy heart.

I love this version of George “Fiji” Veikoso’s Sweet Darling dedicated to Junior Seau.

#TeamPoly in solidarity.

Conversations about life and death

As I try to prepare something of a final speech to deliver at my last opening at Fresh Gallery Otara next week, I’ve been reflecting on the people who have been influential and significant in my curatorial practice and life in general since the Gallery opened in 2006.

This is a piece of writing about Leilani Kake that didn’t quite work out for its intended destination.  I have a conflict of interest with Leilani because I suspect she is my muse, and I will always sound ‘advocatey’ for her, because I am in fact, her biggest fan!

Leilani Kake is an artist who hasn’t been around for a long time, but she knows where she stands. Her work is informed by a distinct and intimate relationship with her past and her role as a caretaker for the future. She is grounded, firmly and profoundly. A heightened sense of self and place is perhaps a result of her bicultural heritage: Kake is of both indigenous New Zealand Māori and Cook Islands Māori descent. Whilst culturally connected, colonisation and displacement has evolved the relationship. As a resident of New Zealand, Kake straddles two worlds; that of being indigenous or tangata whenua, and also classed as a Pacific Islander, the community of Pacific Island people living in diaspora, once migrant and now predominantly New Zealand-born.

Kake’s experience is even broader still; born in Rotorua and raised in Papua New Guinea, Australia and South Auckland, she has long understood the ways in which the world defines her. Her identity and the shared experiences of people and practices that emphasise connectedness are a running theme in her work. Her family is a primary source of inspiration, and working in the relatively non-commercial medium of video installation, Kake’s family and extended community are a significant core audience for her work.

As inspiration and audience, Kake’s family are often performers and subjects in the artist’s emotionally charged video installations. In Talking Tivaevae (2005), Kake’s in-laws performed and participated in the making of the work, the video component as well as the hand-made Cook Island quilt or tivaevae. Ariki (2007) was the first work of series documenting the development and influences affecting her son, Andre’s life. In 2008, Kake moved from a staged performance based approach to real-life documentary style with her three-channel video installation, Tino Rangatira Tanga, a moving tribute to her late father, Richard Kake.

Since 2007, Kake has premiered her new works at Fresh Gallery Otara, a community gallery in her local suburb of Otara, South Auckland. In every case, the works have gone on to be shown nationally and internationally, but it is her core audience who she gives priority to. Like many Pacific artists who draw inspiration from their communities, Kake places a Pacific Island audience in high regard in terms of presenting new work.  Fresh Gallery Otara’s predominantly Pacific Island and youthful audience exposes artists to opinions and feedback based less on academic paradigms and more on cultural symbolism and meaning, feeling and relativity to popular culture and lived experience from the position of South Aucklandat the centre.

Kake has always thrived on this feedback and audiences have always responded to her work in significant ways. Her 2007 and 2008 works, Ariki and Tino Rangatira Tanga, about her then 5-year old son and the impending separation of his parents, and the life and death of her late father, have moved many viewers to tears. Kake’s 2011 work, Ngā Hau E Whā – The Four Winds, inspired high levels of awareness of the disproportionate statistics of Māori and Pacific Island women and cervical and breast cancer related fatality.

Whilst Kake’s work is at home in South Auckland, it loses nothing when exported. Curators have been drawn to the insight and intimacy her work offers. With work being shown in Taiwan, San Francisco, Paris and Hawai’i, Kake’s connectedness, familial relationships and conversations about life and death, transcend cultural contexts.

In 2012, Kake juggles teaching, post-graduate studies and preparation for a significant new work that documents her son’s traditional Cook Island hair-cutting ceremony. The artist’s 2007 work, Ariki, has also been re-made for a showing at Auckland Art Gallery in July.

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!

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

AVANOA O TAMA opens at Fresh Gallery Otara

AVANOA O TAMA is Tanu Gago’s second solo exhibition being held at Fresh Gallery Otara from 2-31 March 2012.

“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.”

Tanu Gago is a South Auckland-based visual artist practising in the field of photography, short film and video installation. He holds a Bachelor of Screen and Performing Arts from Unitec (2009) and held his first solo exhibition, YOU LOVE MY FRESH at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Auckland in 2010.

Tanu’s photographic series, Jerry the Fa’afafine (2011), developed for the exhibition Mana Takatāpui: Taera Tāne at City Gallery Wellington, was subsequently purchased for the Manukau Art Collection (Auckland Council) and is on permanent display at Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku.

In April, Tanu features in a group exhibition of Samoan artists at the University of La Verne (California) and in July, he features in an exhibition of Pacific artists at the Auckland Art Gallery.

Public Programme:

  • Tanu Gago in conversation with Richard Orjis
    12-1pm
    Saturday 17 March
    Fresh Gallery Otara