The new exhibition Home AKL at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki features 28 Pacific artists, many of which live in South Auckland. In a series of posts about Home AKL‘s South Auckland interface, I asked Associate Curator, Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai about her home suburb of Ōtāhuhu.

How are you involved with Home AKL?

I am involved in Home AKL as an associate curator. My contribution has mainly focused on working with master weavers and crochet artists from Kiribati, Niue and Tuvalu, fine women artists and a multimedia artist from Tonga and a masi (Fijian tapa) printer from Fiji.

Where is home?

I am an Ōtāhuhu resident and have lived here with my husband Kenneth and two daughters – Meleseini (4 years old) and Akesiumeimoana (8 months) – for just over four years. The house that we live in is my husband’s family home where he and his family have lived in since 1981 – so over 31 years – although they have been Ōtāhuhu residents for 35 years. While I consider myself a ‘newby’ I’ve had the advantage of my husband and my in-laws intimate knowledge of Ōtāhuhu guide me especially the best places to eat at. I’ve tried various ethnic food places and my favourite Vietnamese would be Try it Out Vietnamese Restaurant on Atkinson Ave, for Thai I would opt for the Thai food places at Food City Ethnic Food Court on Mason Ave (if you want great food for an affordable price), or Secret Thai Garden Restaurant on Station Rd with its amazing décor which is more pricier but good food nonetheless, and for Malaysian I would recommend Penang Café also on Station Rd. I have also recently discovered AW (Affirming Works) Community Café on the corner of Great South Rd and Princes St, directly across from the Ōtāhuhu Police Station – they do great coffee (grown and imported from Tonga) served in big mugs! My daughter Meleseini and I also love our keke ‘isite (Tongan round pancakes) and a close alternative would be the Samoan panikeke (round pancakes) sold at Pinati’s Keke Pua’a shop on Queen St.

When I first moved to Ōtāhuhu in 2008 my favourite shops that I frequented on a weekly basis were three op shops – one on Great South Rd at the post shop end, the second one on Mason Ave across from the Holy Trinity Anglican Church and the third on Salesyard Rd. My daughter Meleseini and I would attend the wriggle and rhyme programme at the Ōtāhuhu library on High St every Thursday and on our way home we would come through all three op shops. The two op-shops in the Ōtāhuhu town centre have since closed down and there is only the one on Salesyard Rd that remains. Since September last year Meleseini has attended Wee Wisdom Montessori Preschool here in Ōtāhuhu on Walmsley St and loves it. Akesiumeimoana and I continue to attend the weekly wriggle and rhyme programme, which runs on a Tuesday now at the local library and still pop into the op shop on Salesyard Rd now and then.

I came to New Zealand when I was about three years old and have always lived in Central Auckland – first in Grafton, then Parnell and then Mt Eden where my family still lives today. Since living in Ōtāhuhu there are noticeable differences. I love the cultural diversity that can be found here in Ōtāhuhu. I love walking through the Ōtāhuhu town centre and seeing so many brown faces and listening to conversations in various Pacific languages. I also love the proud and long history that Ōtāhuhu holds of which I am still learning about. If you knew nothing about Ōtāhuhu, the façade of old buildings along the town centre and old villas around Ōtāhuhu are tangible evidence of a place with a long history. Some of the interesting historical facts about Ōtāhuhu that my husband has told me about include being:

  • The home of New Zealand’s first supermarket which was located on Great South Rd heading south just before the Dominion Breweries and currently has a petrol station and couple of shops.
  • The current location of Ōtāhuhu College where David Lange (former NZ Prime Minister), David Tua, Sir Barry Curtis (ex-Mayor of Manukau) and Home AKL artists Leilani Kake and Angela Tiatia and Home AKL patron Albert Refiti attended.
  • The location of the old railway workshops where it was one of two major workshops in the north island where trains were fixed. The old railway houses still standing around Ōtāhuhu is a reminder of this time.
  • The home of the Ōtāhuhu Leopards where five New Zealand Kiwis captains have come from including famous coach Graham Lowe.
  • That Xena and Hercules were filmed at the warehouses behind the Harlech House, which currently houses NZ police. It is the tallest building in Ōtāhuhu on Great South Road near KFC.

Why would you like to see South Aucklanders going to see Home AKL?

The Auckland Art Gallery is not an institution that is regularly frequented by islanders let alone South Aucklanders. However, Home AKL is an exhibition worth seeing because the majority of the artists featured are from South Auckland. Those that also frequented Fresh Gallery Otara would see many of the artists that showed there in Home AKL. This is a testament of South Auckland being the heart of Pacific Art. As South Aucklanders, this is something to be proud of and hopefully a good enough reason to make your first visit to Auckland Art Gallery or better yet become a regular visitor for the duration of Home AKL.