Posts from the ‘Media’ category

I thought about writing a lengthier response to the New Zealand Herald’s Polyfest themed fashion editorial published last week, but the intellectual energy I started to exert far outweighed the substance and meaning of this photo shoot.

ASB Polyfest, like Auckland’s Pasifika Festival, has been photographed to death. Everything smiling, waving, colour-saturated, bare-chested and culture adorned has been snapped, posted, shared, tagged and promoted a million times. The colour (and colour) of Polyfest adds much needed flavour to a lot of publications and websites and the Polyfest theme of the New Zealand Herald’s fashion editorial entitled, GLOBAL WARMING, does just that.

The photo shoot depicts a central model wearing a selection of ‘ethnic’ outfits including pieces by New Zealand designers, Balinese beads and Polynesian mats, feathers and garlands. In each photo, she is flanked by ‘ethnic’ people, wearing their own outfits which are largely performance costumes; the model’s human context are performers and parents from Polyfest. She models and the context performs; it’s an interesting juxtaposition of constructed awkwardness, commerce versus culture, connection versus disconnection, power and the Gaze.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the young people pictured alongside the editorial’s central model have been named. Their schools and some information of their cultural attire is mentioned too. Following this detail, the model’s outfit is broken down financially, piece by piece, dollar for dollar. But there is no financial value assigned to the costumes of the performers.

Through discussions online and off with people who share sentiments of frustration, disappointment and general irritation at this photo shoot, the representation of Pacific Island young people in a mainstream media publication in New Zealand also inspires pride amongst some. The resemblance to 19th and 20th century constructed portraits of Pacific Islanders is slightly haunting, but perhaps its reflection on 21st century cultural politics is even more disturbing.

Whilst the stylist has approached me personally to validate his intentions, research and academic enquiry that has informed this photo shoot, I like many have responded not only to its visual language, but to the murky politics of representation of the marginalised Pacific Island ‘Other’ by dominant culture. I’ve often said that South Auckland’s ASB Polyfest is the most significant Pacific cultural event in New Zealand for its sheer numbers, its energy and its history. It started in 1975 at Sir Edmund Hillary College in Otara and has always centralised Polynesian young people, their families and communities in a celebration of cultural pride and excellence. The use of Polyfest as a backdrop, a prop shop and human landscape to showcase expensive ethnic-inspired fashion is not glaringly offensive, but definitely very uncool.

In a month that has seen The Big Idea, a New Zealand creative industries website, publish a mind-bogglingly offensive review of Pacific poets from South Auckland, and TV3 / Newstalk ZB broadcaster Rachel Smalley declaring all women over 75kg a ‘load of lardos’, it feels like New Zealand is becoming an increasingly inhospitable place to be big, brown, vocal and culturally entrenched. This excellent blog post by Jessica Hansell / Coco Solid has been the highlight of my month – thank God for Pacific Island writers and thinkers, and thank God for the social networks and commentary that enable and foreground alternative perspectives on Pacific Island lives and experience in Aotearoa.

11 December 2013

fresh art logo full

A new pilot event at Fresh Gallery Otara aims to showcase the potential of creative entrepreneurship in South Auckland.

Fresh Art Market is a lively pop-up market day presenting a diverse range of creative products and services including fashion design, nail artistry, event and project management, homeware and photography alongside the more traditional paintings and prints.

Event organiser, Ema Tavola says, “Fresh Art Market is a microcosm of South Auckland’s creative ecology – our artists are not just exhibiting in galleries but earning a living in a range of ways from photographing and designing events, painting murals, facilitating workshops and creating works of art in hair and nails.”

The event is in part influenced from Tavola’s involvement with a colleague from the Indonesian city of Bandung, well regarded for its innovative creative economy. Dian Gesuri has been in New Zealand completing a Master of Arts Management degree at AUT University; the two have spent six weeks sharing ideas about creative entrepreneurship and sector development in an informal residency at Tavola’s home in South Auckland.

Gesuri will deliver a presentation at Fresh Art Market from 9 – 10am on what South Auckland can gain from harnessing creativity and community, collaboration and commerce. Her talk will introduce some inspiring models of creative entrepreneurship that have contributed to social change in Bandung.

Gesuri says, “The driving force of Bandung’s creative economy is people and community, something South Auckland is rich in; the potential for creative economic growth here is significant.”

Stallholders will be offering specials and discounts across all products and services from manicure and pedicure gift vouchers to couture garments, t-shirts, portrait photography, artworks and hand-made accessories.

Tavola says, “This is a perfect time to support local creative entrepreneurs – their products and services are priced to sell and locally designed and produced gifts and treats are an investment in our local creative economy. This will be a truly inspiring day!”

Artists / Creative Entreprenuers involved: Leah Espie Photography, FAF SWAG, Tui and Sulieti Gillies, Tepora Malo, Nesian Nails, The Roots Creative Entreprenuers, Czarina Wilson Design.

Event details
When: Saturday 14 December, 9am – 2pm
Where: Fresh Gallery Otara, 5/46 Fairmall, Otara Town Centre, South Auckland

Ema Tavola – Event Organiser
Mb 027 5779369 / Email / Twitter @ColourMeFiji / Web

My regular Cultural Ambassador update on Radio New Zealand Nights this month was a discussion on the experience of teaching a paper called Pacific Art Histories: An Eccentric View at Manukau Institute of Technology in Otara, South Auckland. I also discussed my perceptions of the new Fresh Gallery Otara look and its place in the Otara Town Centre.

Nights on Radio New Zealand (3 April 2013)[audio ]

I wrote a review of the recently published Art in Oceania: A New History (Thames & Hudson) for The Listener (16-22 February 2013). The Listener is New Zealand’s weekly current affairs and entertainment magazine covering the political, cultural and literary life of the country.

This video briefly documents the journey of Fijian-Maori visual artist Margaret Aull from her Te Awamutu studio in the Waikato to her solo exhibition at Papakura Art Gallery in South Auckland. I co-curated Margaret’s solo exhibition, Concealed Ancestors with Nigel Borell; the exhibition features sculpture and works on paper and runs until 23 February 2013. Read more here.

This video was shot and edited by Leilani Kake and produced as an archival record with support from the Pacific Arts Committee, Creative New Zealand and Toi o Manukau.

My Pacific & My Auckland

Story by Ema Tavola

Fundamentally, I am opposed to the idea of Auckland being called a Pacific city. I don’t take the word Pacific lightly. It describes my heritage, community and socio-political context, and Auckland reflects little to nothing of who I am.

I am from Suva, Fiji – an actual Pacific city. Fiji’s capital is teeming with Nesian flavour. Void of resorts, Suva is a melting pot of the Pacific with its embassies, regional organisations, tertiary institutions and thriving commercial centres. Pacific people, Fiji people, are the newsmakers, the politicians, the event planners, the strategists, the teachers… the leaders. While plagued with political instability for much of my lifetime, Suva is where the Pacific is truly present.

I live in South Auckland and have studied and worked in Otara for the past decade. The community I call home here in New Zealand is predominantly Polynesian. In Otara, New Zealand’s demographics are turned upside down and the Pacific community defines, creates and is the mainstream. I feel close to the Pacific because I am surrounded by Pacificness – language, laughter, children, brown skin, food and movement. I still get a culture shock when I leave South Auckland and I feel a deep sense of relief when I return.

Because I am embedded in a sense of the Pacific proper and also in the Pacific relocated in Otara, Pacificness for me is where we/I am visible. In Auckland, the Pacific community makes up 14 per cent of the population, less than that of the Asian community and less than a third of that of Pākehā. We are a minority on the margins. As such, Pacific people and issues rarely feature in mainstream media and are rarely seen in advertising. Our representation in the leadership and governance of Auckland is grossly under par. For a Pacific city, Pacific people seem fairly invisible.

Auckland is a settler city now home to a multitude of ethnic groups. Central Auckland hosts the annual Pasifika festival attracting broad audiences to a two-day celebration of Pacific music, food and culture.

But Pasifika is no more important than the other major cultural events like the Lantern Festival celebrating Chinese New Year, and Diwali Festival of Lights. These large-scale culture expos paint a picture of Auckland’s diverse economic potential, giving minority communities the civic limelight for one to two days in the year.

But Auckland is home to the majority of New Zealand’s Pacific population. Now generationally entrenched, over 50 per cent of the population is New Zealand born. The Pacific diaspora has become increasingly integrated into the social fabric of New Zealand and as the community grows, identities evolve. For many Pacific people, our perceived identity is not related so much to where we are, but to where we have become visible when previously we were invisible. The number of Pacific Islanders playing elite schoolboy rugby has grown from almost none to domination of many of the teams.

This creates a problematic measure of Pacific identity. It is arguably a model of oppressed thinking from a community still over-represented in statistics around poor educational achievement, poverty and political dislocation. It feels like a strange colonial Stockholm syndrome that stops us expecting and demanding more of a country that has been built in part on the backs of Pacific labour.

If Auckland were truly a Pacific city I would expect a deeper consciousness about Pacific people and ideas, the wider region and our relationship with not only Polynesia, but Melanesia and Micronesia.

Whilst we have visibility in sports and in small windows of programming on mainstream television, we need to have visibility in decision-making at local and central government levels. We need more leadership in our community, in order to have presence and contribute fully to the Auckland dynamic. Potentially, strong and informed Pacific leaders could confront the large-scale political disenfranchisement we saw so clearly in our last national elections.

In a truly Pacific Auckland, engagement with Pacific communities would be meaningful, intergenerational and mutually beneficial. Mainstream institutions would not only foster relationships with Pacific communities, but actively deliver programming which appeals and educates wider audiences on Pacific lives and experiences.

I’d like to think that in an Auckland conscious of its Pacific community, we would stop building environments that enslave and harm our most disadvantaged sectors.

There are too many urban health hazards: there shouldn’t be liquor stores and takeaways on every corner and substandard imported food sold at every dairy in Mangere, Otara and Ōtāhuhu.

SkyCity and everyone else who introduces pokie machines to the community should be considered stakeholders in problem gambling, and held responsible for the damage they cause.

Tighter regulations around targeted and exploitative money lending would stabilise a community already faced with disproportionate financial challenges.

Sports commentators, news readers and leaders would be educated in how to pronounce Pacific names, and they would understand that mispronunciation is offensive and unnecessary.

Right now in New Zealand, emigration has never looked so appealing. Like many of my friends and networks, I look for jobs regularly in Australia.

If I left, the truth is I would miss South Auckland terribly. I would miss this little piece of the Pacific with its abundance of churches, swarms of brown children, multi-coloured everything. Here, Pacific people have made their mark – survived adversity and built strong, proud communities. Much of South Auckland exists in a parallel universe to the wider Auckland region; it was a self-sufficient little world before the Super City.

If an amalgamated Auckland means South Auckland’s Pacificness is now part of a bigger blander civic picture, then perhaps Auckland is a Pacific City. But there is no doubt in my mind that South Auckland is its beating heart.

This article was written for Metro magazine (August 2012)
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