We travelled by American school bus to the Musqueam Cultural Centre on the morning of August 7. I was excited to learn that the first day of the Pacific Arts Association International Symposium would take place in such a great space. With young people and artists milling around, located in the heart of the Musqueam Reservation and on the water’s edge, I loved the setting and felt excited to deliver my paper within that context.

I always appreciate the opportunity to speak last, and in this case, it was an opportunity to salvage some professionalism after my fellow panelists delivered poorly prepared and disorganised presentations, surprising given that both of them had secured grants to travel and participate in this conference. I have felt the weight of every ounce of investment from those who supported the #2girls1conference fundraising campaign; my paper was a small way to honour those who invested in Leilani and I, and the prestige of this forum.

I was grateful to have a full-house in attendance, and although it was far from an ideal space, the intimate environment enabled some good discussion. I love when Pacific people ask questions but so often those with privilege and agency dominate time and space. It seemed to surprise an Australian conference goer, who had addressed the panel with relatively self-serving commentary for the third time, when I declared that this forum, or rather, any academic forum about Pacific art, has little to no relevance for most Pacific artists making work at the grassroots. They are neither validated, or concerned with what is discussed here because there is a parallel world of criticality, aesthetics and significance that exists between Pacific art and Pacific audiences. I opened the door for what could be hours upon hours of debate and sparked small fires in the minds of those who approached me later to dissect and discover what I had meant.

My position and open declaration of my politics is not what it used to be when I worked as a public servant. I am in a different space, with different loyalties. I no longer represent institutional agendas and received no public grant money to enable my trip; the presumed hand that I was accused of biting with my closing remarks, is in fact not the hand that feeds me anymore.

Instead, my community, my family and my loving partner have been my foundation; as long as I’m making them proud, I’m OK, and after today – I’m more than OK.

7 Responses to “#31WriteNow Day 7: Knowing Those Who Hold Stakes”

  1. sylvia519

    Kia kaha! I do like a bit of well placed stirring! Can we ask who the other panelists were?


  2. Reuben Friend

    The other panelists Ema speaks of were myself Reuben Friend and Shelley Jahnke. I am the one who wrote the application for us to submit this talk to the conference and I also gave Ema Tavola $1000 to get her to the conference because she was too unorganised to get her funding application in on time. I offered to include her in the funding the application that I spend 3 months working on, but Ema wanted to write her own grant which she failed to complete. Ema’s presentation spoke of South Auckland art being for South Auckland people. Meanwhile Ema isn’t even from South Auckland and grew up in a wealthy family as the daughter of a Fijian Governmental Representative. Your comments on life as a South Aucklander come as an outsider. Anybody who has heard your accent and read the spoilt bratty attiutude in your blog knows that you come from a wealthy backgroung – so stop claiming South Auckland because you don’t represent 274! Nobody who grew up in Otara, Mangere and Papatoetoe like I did would be angry at people who gave them a $1000 of their own money to get them to another country simply because they gained a grant to get to the conference. Reason being poor people appreciate when one of the homies help us out – and we have each others back FOR LIFE. That’s what ghetto really is – having your homies back because you know they got yours. Now I had your back and now you go and write up this bullshit. Go cuk yourself Bitch. Also your presentation gave no context to the art history that our Pacific artists are engaging in, how we enter into global dialogues or what the possible future direction for Pacific artists was. Also none of the questions in the Q & A session were directed at you because you said that Pacific artists aren’t interested in academic discourse which cut out the audience and three quarters of the Pacific artists that are operating today. Pacific artists are interested in academia and you need to stop acting like the unofficial spoke person for Pacific artists. You talk was weak and lacked academic grounding. You represent a very small group of artists. You are not from South Auckland and you don’t realise that most of us are trying to overcome our situation and go beyond our locality and socio-economic status – we ain’t trying to stay there and tell stories of struggle to each other, we’re trying to make something of ourselves so that we can tell stories of overcoming adversity. AND THAT is what you just don’t get coming form a wealthy background. It is sad that instead of entering into discussions you would rather rant on your little blog and undermine other artists and curators who are taking Pacific art to the world stage. There are only a handful of Pacific curators, Meanwhile, on this trip, I’ve meet with curators from all over the world, in Ottawa, New York, Vancouver and onto Venice next week and have been making in-roads for our artists to take our art to the world. For those of us who grew up in South Auckland, we know our stories and have been telling them to ourselves all our lives, and now it’s time to go beyond South Auckland. In conclusion, pimpi don’t know shit and needs to stop acting like she’s the official spokesperson for Pacific artists.


  3. Ema Tavola

    Thanks for your comments Reuben,

    Whilst I suspect your comments reveal more about your character and position than you know, I’d just clarify that I was ineligible for Creative New Zealand funds as I had received a grant within the previous round that your were intending to apply. This was clarified in the process of intensive fundraising that I undertook with Leilani Kake to enable our travel and participation in the conference.

    Your donation was received with gratitude but as our communication leading up to and surrounding it reveals, the commitment you made to support the cost of my airfare (NZ$2400) was not honoured, but you are right – I am indebted to you for what you gave.

    It’s saddening that you perceive my paper to be weak; other than yourself, I’ve only received positive remarks, but again, thanks for your thoughts. You might like to re-read it, I’ve published it here: https://pimpiknows.com/pacificartsassociation2013/

    It’s refreshing to have my position scrutinised, as it has been a while since I’ve declared openly that my upbringing was not in South Auckland, but in London, Brussels and Fiji, where I was born. As a public servant working in and for South Auckland from 2006-2012, I put South Auckland first and it could have been overlooked that I don’t in fact come from this area. My unique upbringing has been written about by Owen Scott, for the NZ Herald (January 2009) here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10552915

    Good luck Reuben; I’m sure our paths will cross again, but I suspect we may be moving in different directions.

    Vinaka vakalevu,



  4. Ema Tavola

    The response from Reuben is basically abuse. As the accusations and assumptions that this post has inspired are based on one-on-one communication between two individuals, I don’t think this is the place to dialogue.

    I will just say – Reuben, you are so far from everything that my father is, it’s laughable. The language and tone you use wasn’t acceptable to your wife, and it’s far from acceptable in a professional realm. I think we can agree to disagree; your career trajectory is yours, and mine is mine – there’s room for more than one school of thought, and I choose to locate mine in South Auckland and the Pacific, you choose to represent on the world stage. Go hard, I’m glad you’re living your dream!


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