“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.

 

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Value, values and #HomeAKL

For the past several months, I’ve been part of the curatorial team for the upcoming exhibition, Home AKL at Auckland Art Gallery opening Saturday 7 July. Under the leadership of Ron Brownson (Senior Curator – New Zealand and Pacific Art, Auckland Art Gallery), Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai, Nina Tonga and I have been the Associate Curators.

The experience has been exciting and rewarding, challenging and eye-opening. It is always satisfying to see artists who show at Fresh Gallery Otara go on to do great things. Having celebrated the gallery’s sixth anniversary last month, and processing mixed emotions about leaving my role at Auckland Council, it is particularly heartening to see that almost 40% of the artists in Home AKL have shown at Fresh since the Gallery opened in 2006.

The entry fee for Home AKL last week got reconsidered, the process of which was reported in the New Zealand Herald (10 June, 2012). Whilst an entry fee potentially limits accessibility to some audiences, it also builds value. The value of Home AKL is significant: for the artists, their work is shown in a landmark exhibition, in an award winning building over three months. Their work will be hung on the same walls as the European masterpieces in the recent Degas to Dalí travelling exhibition. Artists benefit from extensive media coverage, in-depth essays and exhibition writing, public programme events and talks. For audiences, Home AKL is a massively varied insight into Pacific lives and experience here in Auckland. The Pacific community is diverse and dynamic and this exhibition is a highly considered reflection of that. The works in Home AKL push the ‘identity’ cliché beyond recognition.

The upcoming Advance Pasifika: March for the Future event on Saturday 16 June is an effort to make Pacific people visible in Auckland. I’m excited about this event because I’ve seen so much change in the past three or so years that has systematically reduced the input and participation of Pacific people in decision making at local and central government levels. It’s heart breaking to feel so powerless in Aotearoa.

I’m proud that Home AKL comes at a time when Pacific people are starting to stir and expect and demand more of our leaders. I know that an entry fee for an art exhibition is considered by many to be unreasonable and even a deterrent. I understand the costs, particularly when coming from South Auckland. Transport and parking alone is expensive. I can only say that the experience of Home AKL will confirm for Pacific audiences that our lives, identities and multifaceted contributions to Auckland are recognised and honoured in this exhibition. We will be visible and present; our issues and perspectives, our communities and environments – Home AKL is a celebration of Auckland through a Pacific lens.

Importantly, myself, Kolokesa and Nina have ensured that Pacific input has been present and considered at every stage of the exhibition’s development. For me, this is an important point of difference. I hope that this input has informed a new way of looking at and considering art made by Pacific people.

I’m looking forward to the show opening, the various public events, and importantly, the reviews and responses from the Pacific community and beyond.

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.

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