Fiji Forever

Having now lived almost 10 years in Auckland, ‘home’ is becoming a broader concept. I love living and working in South Auckland, partly because it is so close to Fiji and the wider Pacific region. But I miss family, relationships and the connectedness of Suva.

This is me and my sister photographed at Island Studios, Suva in July 2011. We chose to be superimposed atop a flying white horse but had the choice of fighting with tigers, lifting a car, stroking a chimpanzee, sitting inside a flower or riding a Ducati.

Summit Time…

The 2011 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit is my biggest project in the year. It’s a programme of events built around Fresh Gallery Otara’s anniversary in May. This year’s Summit is PACKED full of Pacific art excellence! Running from 4 May – 4 June, the Summit runs straight into Matariki Festival which means two solid mid-winter months in South Auckland are dedicated to celebrating indigenous culture and creativity. Too good!!

This year’s poster has been developed by The Kitchen Media – I love it. Interested in hearing thoughts. Partially, Gary Lee’s beautiful solo exhibition, gorgeousness, that celebrates Fresh Gallery Otara’s 5th anniversary was the inspiration, as well as the highly visible and popular culture of Polynesian tattooing in South Auckland.

The Summit’s blog site is an informal channel for information about artists and events, photos, videos and interviews. Formal programme information should be available on the Auckland Council website in the coming weeks.

Talanoa : Ema Tavola (via Urban Viti)

Thank you Dulcie 🙂

Talanoa : Ema Tavola Ema Tavola, is a visual artist and curator of Fijian and New Zealand Pakeha ancestry, currently living in Manukau City, New Zealand. She is the  Pacific Arts Co-ordinator at Fresh Gallery Otara in Manukau. Ema is passionate about contemporary Pacific art and Manukau City. And you can feel this passion and dedication through her work at Fresh Gallery Otara and her web presence as a blogger and on Twitter and Flickr – she facilitates the exchange o … Read More

via Urban Viti

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)


January is all about the HAND MADE at Fresh Gallery Otara! We have Sean Kerrigan’s 2010 sculpture “I AM…” on display and an exclusive Season of Coco Solid featuring the launch of her new zine-book, PHILOSOFLYGIRL and an extra special zine-making workshop with Coco Solid + Riki Anderson!

Follow Coco Solid on Twitter here
More details about the PHILOSOFLYGIRL Launch here

PHILOSOFLYGIRL will be on sale at Fresh Gallery Otara at the launch for only NZD10!

Registration is essential for the workshop – see flier for details.

January is also the opening of Mana Takatāpui: Taera Tāne, a group show curated by Reuben Friend for City Gallery Wellington. It feature Fresh Gallery Otara famz, Tanu Gago and Dan Taulapapa McMullin… can’t wait! Tanu’s work was shot on location in Papatoetoe, South Auckland and was awesome to witness.

More photos from the making of Jerry The Fa’afafine (2010) here

Fresh Gallery Otara is also excited about being at Toi o Manukau’s Waitangi Day Festival for the first time this year. This is New Zealand’s largest commemorative event for Waitangi Day – very excited! The musical line-up is so great, and it’s free!

Our Auckland Arts Festival exhibition, Ngā Hau E Whā – The Four Winds is a solo exhibition by Otara-based video installation artist, Leilani Kake. This is going to break some amazing new ground for Fresh Gallery Otara – so excited!

Ngā Hau E Whā – The Four Winds
New work by Leilani Kake
4 March – 16 April 2011
Fresh Gallery Otara

In April, we host a short solo exhibition by the excellent Hone Ngata aka DJ Poroufessor and a DJ Skills 101 workshop and then May is Fresh Gallery Otara’s 5 Anniversary! The Manukau Pacific Arts Summit surrounds the Gallery’s anniversary and is made up of 5 weeks of EXCELLENT multi-disciplinary events in and around Otara, Mangere and Manukau. June is the start of Matariki and then it’s a new year! WOOHOO!!

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

Leilani Kake + Tanu Gago // Tagata Pasifika

TVNZ’s weekly Pacific Island affairs programme, Tagata Pasifika aired this story about two artists I work closely with, Leilani Kake and Tanu Gago on 18 November 2010. At the time, Leilani was showing her 2010 video work, Kia Ora 2 Kia Orana in manu toi; artists and messengers curated by Nigel Borell for Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku, and Tanu’s solo, YOU LOVE MY FRESH was showing at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts in Pakuranga.

YOU LOVE MY FRESH has been extended one week and now will be shown until 12 December 2010.

Next year, Tanu is involved in a group exhibition curated by Reuben Friend for Deane Gallery, City Gallery Wellington opening in January. I am curating Leilani’s next solo exhibition, Nga Hau E Wha – The Four Winds – a four-channel video installation at Fresh Gallery Otara for the 2011 Auckland Arts Festival in March.

Leilani and I are trying to generate funds to participate in the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania Symposium in Hawai’i in February. We have proposed to discuss the construction and context of Nga Hau E Wha – The Four Winds in a session entitled, Refashioning the Body: Building Critical Theory Across the Pacific. A 2011 Colour Me Fiji fundraising T-shirt is in production!

Thinking of Luse

Luse Nemani at the opening of "Maka Tu'u Taha" at Fresh Gallery Otara (2007)

At age 81, Lusefamanatu (Luse) Nemani passed away on Friday 13 August in Otara. Luse has been one of our biggest supporters at Fresh Gallery Otara, having seen just about every show since we opened in May 2006. Luse was a member of the original Pasifika Arts o Manukau Trust, the organisation that was behind the creation of my role as Pacific Arts Coordinator for Manukau City Council. She was a Tongan warden for the Otara Town Centre and involved in so many initiatives and projects.

Luse has been a comforting friend and advisor to me, giving me insight into her mixed cultural heritage of Tongan and Niuean, her migration and life in Otara. I always appreciated her warmth and interest in my life. She made the most beautiful garlands/lei out of recycled sheet plastic, and knitted so many people warm winter scarves; we sold her lei and crochet work in the 2006 and 2007 ‘Under $100 Art Sale’ exhibitions and she was involved in our first anniversary exhibition, Fresh Gallery Otara Turns 1!

I loved when Luse would sing; she was always intending to record an album of songs in Niuean, Tongan, Fijian and English at Otara Music Arts Centre. I wish she did. She had the softest, most beautiful voice that reminded me of old Hawaiian love songs.

I’m happy that in the past two years, Fresh Gallery Otara hosted two Tongan exhibitions that Luse loved. In February 2009, Koloa et al: Your Art is my Treasure curated by Charmaine ‘Ilaiu and Nina Tonga showcased the Tongan artforms of weaving and backcloth design. In April 2010, Tongan Style curated by Manuēsina Mahina and Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai profiled the work of five Tongan women working in the mediums of embroidery, crochet, garment construction and church fashion.

Luse didn’t mind contemporary art, but always loved when the references to customary practice were recognisable. Her readings of paintings by Kulimoe’anga Maka and Samiu Napa’a, and sculptures by Visesio Siasau and Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi, always gave us food for thought.

I miss Luse already. I will always remember her warmth and love, her generosity and insight, her cheekiness, and how she loved hearing Tongan songs sung when we would have a kava band playing at Fresh Gallery Otara openings. Her service to the Otara community sets the bar so high, and I know her passing will be felt by so many people whose lives she touched.

‘Ofa lahi atu, Luse.

The Other and the PAA

A Pacific artist’s response to the 10th Pacific Arts Association Symposium (Rarotonga)

The 10th Pacific Arts Association (PAA) Symposium was held on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands from 9-11 August 2010. My perception was that the PAA is a Anglo-American organisation profiling the views of academics and museum curators who deal in the research, collection and investigation of objects and cultural practices of people of the Pacific region. Working at the grassroots in Pacific diaspora and Pacific proper contexts, where people and cultures are central as opposed to academia and institutions, I hadn’t envisioned that attendance or participation in this forum was a priority for me. However, funds became available and I travelled with my colleague Nigel Borell (Kaiwhakahaere – Maori Arts Advisor, Manukau City Council) and Manukau-based visual artists and educators Leilani Kake (Manukau School of Visual Arts) and Donna Tupaea (Alfriston College).

Given that the event was being held in such close vicinity to Auckland, an important centre for contemporary Pacific art, the planned attendance of actual Pacific artists was encouraging. The visibility of Pacific people, contemporary art and culture, and the amount of Pacific people involved as speakers gave me hope. Papers were to be delivered by: Hūfanga Dr ‘Okusitino Māhina, Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai, Sēmisi Fetokai Poutauine, Apolonia Tamata, Charmaine ‘Ilaiu, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Lingikoni Vaka’uta, Fonofale McCarthy, Marilyn Kohlhase, Rosanna Raymond, Karen Stevenson and Pétélo Tuilalo.

Sēmisi Fetokai Poutauine, Hūfanga Dr ‘Okusitino Māhina and Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai

Hosted at an upmarket Rarotongan resort, Pacific people were refreshingly visible at the gathering of speakers and observers on day one. In an undersized meeting room, participants spilled out, unable to hear welcome speeches, but it was an exciting way to meet up with old friends, respected artists and Pacific thinkers – most of which were standing outside in the shade! Unfortunately, from this first session, the event’s poor time keeping became an issue and blaming poor organisation on “Rarotongan time” was irritating.

Keynote speaker, Jonathan Mane-Wheoki – Director of Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland, delivered a paper entitled, Contemporary Urban Pacific Art in Aotearoa: A Whakapapa. As a contemporary urban Pacific artist, Mane-Wheoki’s whakapapa was history heavy and showed a complete disconnect with the accelerated growth and relevance of the past many years of urban Pacific art making taking place under his nose in Auckland. History is of course relevant, but institutional perspectives of an art sector born and bred in the grassroots, are dislocated and distant.

Nigel Borell, Ema Tavola, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Jonathan Mane-Wheoki and Leilani Kake

Ron Brownson – Senior Curator, New Zealand and Pacific Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gave a much more relevant insight into contemporary urban Pacific art, representing a thorough and exciting involvement and respect for his subject – West Auckland-based Māori-Samoan-Niuean video installation artist, Janet Lilo. Brownson set a high standard for delivery and research, understanding and contextual scope. His quotes were hot and constant… “narcissism of the now”… “my web shadow and me”… “you are what you share”, he had us stimulated and engaged from start to finish. We were so proud of Janet Lilo, and honour Brownson for choosing to bring Lilo’s practice into this forum.

Pétélo Tuilalo – Head of Visual Arts and Exhibitions, Agency of the Development of Kanak Culture, Tjibaou Cultural Centre, New Caledonia, followed Brownson with an equally stimulating presentation. Robes Mission: un art de la Rue? was a thematic exhibition around the missionary ‘Mother Hubbard’ dress. Tuilalo discussed the introduction and impact, visibility and context of the garment and showed images of artworks, processes, artists and the exhibition install at the Tjibaou Centre. It was refreshing to feel not only indigenous artists responding to a theme related to their own indigenous / settler cultural interface, but also that the project was conceived and implemented by an indigenous curator.

Contemporary Pacific Art and Artists was a session chaired by Dan Taulapapa McMullin; notably, the first session I attended at the PAA Symposium chaired by a Pacific Islander. The audience for this session had a strong Pacific and Māori artist presence with the likes of Leilani Kake, Angela Tiatia, Julia Mage’au Gray, Reuben Paterson, Suzanne Tamaki, Rosanna Raymond and Filani Macassey to name a few.

Jenny Fraser’s manifesto was an exciting start – she speaks frankly about the struggle of being an Aboriginal artist in Australia where only 2% of the population is indigenous. The Other APT is an excellent fringe project to the Asia Pacific Triennial (APT) held at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane. Fraser introduced her land and people, her source and inspiration. Finally, an indigenous artist perspective was being presented – art as activism, problems as opportunities for progress and evidence of a Pacific / indigenous concept planned, implemented and celebrated. It felt strong and empowering and so, so relevant.

Dan Taulapapa McMullin also presented a beautiful indigenous perspective, in trademark poetic flow. McMullin used his paintings as illustrations of his thoughts, and his thoughts as contextual statements about his paintings. He is a stand-out Pacific artist, writer and film maker with a magnificent presence.

Pamela Zeplin – Senior Lecturer in Art and Design History and Theory, University of South Australia presented a paper entitled, The Pacific in the ‘Big Island’: Oceania Waves in Australia. Zeplin is an academic who has paid some attention to Pacific artists in recent times, and been involved with an effort to create some collective action calling artists to create strategies to increase exposure of contemporary art made by Pacific artists living in Australia. A recent workshop outcome was the creation of a Pacific art themed issue of Art Monthly Australia (August 2010). Zeplin introduced some of the artists involved in this initiative including Tongan painter, Sam Tupou and Fijian academic and artist, Torika Bolatagici. Unfortunately, both names were mispronounced by Zeplin as “Sam Toopoo” and “Tarikah Bolatangitchy”.

Given the opportunity to question and comment on the session, I introduced myself and thanked Zeplin for bringing the Pacific artists she mentioned into this forum and attempting to give us a historical context for their [in]visibility in the wider Australian art world. I said that I had a simple comment and wanted to correct the pronunciation of the surnames of the Fijian and Tongan artists she had mentioned. In the moment, I was overcome with emotion. I could feel myself unable to finish my sentence, so my colleague Leilani Kake supported me to articulate my point. The point was made that pronunciation is important and that there is mana in a name. It was a simple comment that followed from George Nuku, renowned Māori artist and activist, who also asked Zeplin to acknowledge some inaccuracies in her presentation of indigenous / settler historical contexts of Aotearoa. Zeplin responded to Nuku somewhat defensively, but not to me. The chair summed up my point, saying that these kind of gatherings are often sites of gross linguicide – the butchering of our Pacific languages, he acknowledged my emotion as symbolic of the pain of being misrepresented.

I firmly believe that attention to correct pronunciation is a decision based on respect. I commend Australian writer, Jacqui Durrant, for asking me to guide her through the phonetic pronunciation of Bolatagici – a difficult name, admittedly, for English speakers. She noted that she had never heard Bolatagici’s name pronounced correctly. Other speakers incorporating Fijian words and names, Stephen Hooper and Charmaine ‘Ilaiu, did an impressive job.

In retrospect, for the sake of Zeplin’s ego, my comment could have been made in person, but the message of my comment, was for the entire forum. My emotion did not represent weakness. It represented anger and love… honesty and the weight of my communities, as a Fijian and a curator, as a Pacific person, and as an artist, as someone who proudly represents Pacific people always with integrity and strength.

There were other papers at the PAA that represented a positive engagement with Pacific people, both real and meaningful. Non-Pacific academics such as Marion Cadora (Post-Graduate student, University of Hawai’i) and Anita Herle (Senior Curator for Anthropology, University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, England) presented papers showing research and respect, sharing and empowerment. There is no doubt that many PAA members often dedicate and invest their lives and energies into efforts to support the sustainable development of Pacific people. In these instances, a system of reciprocity is employed where “the source” is an equal beneficiary to the findings and outcomes of Pacific cultural research and enquiry. This model is admirable. Unfortunately, forums like this also attract academics who still have a subtle undertone of colonial exploitation. Fortunately, this seems to be exposed when face-to-face with actual Pacific people, able to articulate Pacific thought to respond and challenge.

On day three, Australian academic Pamela Zeplin made her thoughts known to an indigenous artist, who shared with me her experience of being used as a sounding board for Zeplin’s ego. Yes Pamela Zeplin, blackfellas talk.

Zeplin proclaimed that my comment following her presentation represented someone who was “immature and hysterical”.

Whilst immediately angered by her amazingly patriarchal response to my comment and hurt by her judgmental attack on me and everything and everyone I represent, her position is exposed. Incidents like this illustrate the difference between people who work with Pacific art and artists for love and service versus currency and academic difference. My Pacific colleagues have shared with me their sadness and support, and my Australian colleagues have helped me to understand the position of Australian patriarchal white supremacy and cultural dominance. When Pacific art and culture is my heart, my work and the language of service to my people, it’s easy to forget the special needs of our region’s colonial settler communities.

Zeplin is celebrated for holding the hand of the marginalised other; leading them into the white light, but her response to an indigenous voice is seriously disturbing.

Native gathering

The PAA gave us an opportunity to gather and share our work, as Pacific artists. On day three, sick of dominant culture discourse, the natives gathered and told stories of conferences past. For my colleague Leilani Kake and I, Vaka Vuku: Pacific Epistemologies in 2006 hosted by the University of the South Pacific in Fiji was a benchmark Pacific discourse event; held in the Pacific, for the Pacific. Rosanna Raymond, respected Pacific artist and writer, told of her experience of being told she was a “naughty girl” after being “sshhh’d” at the PAA Symposium in Massachusetts, at the age of 40.

Native floorshow

The conference closed with a dinner accompanied with savagery and fire, the native floorshow reminded me of the Brook Andrew work “Sexy and Dangerous” (1996)

"Sexy and Dangerous" (1996) by Brook Andrew

There were three excellent exhibitions shown during the PAA Symposium. Nanette Lela’ulu showed an impressive body of large-scale portraits and small-scale landscapes at The Art Studio, a beautiful collection of tivaevae was shown at a community hall, and Auckland visual artist, Janet Lilo had a solo showing at BCA Gallery. Lilo’s show curated by Ron Brownson, incorporated the video project small axe09 produced for Fresh Gallery Otara for the invitational 2009 New Artists Show at Auckland’s ARTSPACE.

Tanu Gago // New Work

Tanu Gago is a south Auckland-based Samoan filmmaker who I’m working with to produce his first solo exhibition, YOU LOVE MY FRESH opening in September at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Manukau City. Tanu was a contributing artist to the smallaxe09 project, a collaborative video work produced by Janet Lilo and I as part of the invitational exhibition profiling new art venues at Auckland’s ARTSPACE gallery in September 2009. Tanu’s short film, The Woods, also featured in the inaugural Manukau Film Festival in 2008.

YOU LOVE MY FRESH is an experimental video installation exploring Samoan identity, intergenerational cultural transmission and gender in south Auckland.

Umu day, an initiative teaching young New Zealand-born Samoans how to prepare an umu / earth oven.


The Kool Kids Company – Tanu Gago’s production company.

Tanu’s drawing practice is also of note, his current body of work is based around a character inspired by Dan Taulapapa McMullin‘s poetry collection, A Drag Queen Named Pipi.

Jerry the Fa’afafine is an ongoing series of drawings exploring Samoan masculinity.

Tanu opened our second Manukau City edition of Pecha Kucha Night in November 2009 for the Manukau Festival of Arts with a fantastic, inspiring presentation that can be seen here.