Posts from the ‘Residency’ category

My beloved land forever beckons
Go Fiji Go
Until my last breath

~ English translation, lyrics from Vanua Domoni

In Fijian, kaitani refers to one who is from outside or from another community, province or country.

I’ve been a visitor in Christchurch for three months, dreaming about home. I came with the intention of writing a manifesto about curatorial practice but hadn’t realised how much the distance and isolation from my community and my community of practice would affect me.

I came to understand how much the people of my practice come first.

Being based at the University of Canterbury, I took the opportunity to participate in the Fijian Students Association. We worked together to produce a celebration for Fiji Independence Day on October 10th, a programme of talks and an exhibition in the Pasifika Lali Room within the School for Māori & Indigenous Studies. Our Fiji Day event included reflections on Fiji history and language, an item by local Fijian youth who performed a meke (traditional Fijian dance), chicken curry, a Fiji Day cake and the singing of Vanua Domoni by some of the active members of the Fijian Students Association.

At our Fiji Day event, the lyrics of Vanua Domoni from FijianLyrics.com were displayed on a projector screen for the students, and the audience, made up of fellow students, staff and members of the local Fijian community, to sing along. The lyrics of Vanua Domoni speak of a love and longing for Fiji, the beloved land. As an unofficial anthem of our Fijian rugby teams, the song evokes the pride and identity of Fijians both at home and away. The unifying act of singing together is collectively uplifting, a sharing of common purpose, a form of devotion.

I’m interested in space that is created when Pacific ideas, voices, culture and language are central. I’ve built my curatorial practice around the interventions that can be manifested in New Zealand art galleries and museums to challenge Eurocentric cultural norms for ways of seeing, interpreting and valuing visual language. In the current climate within the arts and cultural sector, diversity measures are increasingly part of the arts funding paradigm but thinly veiled programming efforts towards social inclusion still too often reinscribe power inequalities. The act of enabling Pacific artists and audiences, and other minority communities, to participate and contribute to publicly funded spaces and events, is an act of sharing power and decolonising the time and space around our arts, cultures and people.

Kulimoe’anga ‘Stone’ Maka and I spent time during my residency discussing the influence of the Pacific on Western fine art since Tonga’s first encounter with Europeans in the 17th century. We shared origin stories and unpacked the clues of re-imagined historical narratives and their Biblical parallels. In sharing my anxieties of working in such Pākehā dominated spaces and places, our discussions on danger and beauty, metaphor and symbolism in Tongan and Fijian arts and culture, helped ground my thinking.

In his signature style, Maka’s large-scale smoke painting entitled, Mafoa e ata (Dawn), reflects everything we had shared. It is imbued with the memories of his Tongan childhood, of watching his mother mastering the method of smoking barkcloth to achieve deep, dark colour plains. It is all the tensions and synchronicity of his relationship with Western abstract art. And it is the messy space between the polarised worlds of darkness and light, white and black, us and them.

My theory of curating is grounded in the transformative act of reflecting the world I share with Pacific people, creating safe spaces for real talk about the complexities and deviancies of contemporary life. Curating is, in essence, building protections and modes of transmission around our narratives. Kaitani has been a restorative process of re-valuing the principles that guide me, the artistic enquiry that excites me and fresh air for encountering new ways of seeing.


Kaitani runs from 25 November – 24 December 2017 at The Physics Room, 209 Tuam Street, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Ema Tavola has lived and worked within the creative sector in South Auckland, New Zealand since 2002. Her research is practice-based and concerned with curating as a mechanism for social inclusion, centralising Pacific ways of seeing, and exhibition making as a mode of decolonisation. She was the founding curator of Fresh Gallery Ōtara, where she produced satellite projects for ARTSPACE and Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, in addition to advising on exhibitions for Auckland Art Gallery and Auckland Museum. She was the first curator awarded the CNZ Arts Pasifika Award for Contemporary Art (2012) and recipient of the 2017 Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies Residency at the University of Canterbury.

Kulimoe’anga ‘Stone’ Maka was born in Patangata, Tonga and migrated to New Zealand in 1997 aged 26. During his studies at Manukau School of Visual Arts, he began exploring traditional Tongan mark making techniques using smoke as a medium. His ambitious and experimental painting practice has evolved into a unique form of Tongan abstraction earning him numerous accolades and acquisitions in both public and private collections. Whilst balancing the demands of parenting a young family, Maka has been working from his East Christchurch-based studio for the past decade.

The University of Canterbury (UC) Fijian Students Association was officially affiliated in 2017. There are just over 80 students of Fijian heritage currently studying at the University. The students featured in Kaitani are Akili Namuaira, Peni Apisai, Curtis Fatiaki, Josefa Tabua, Sai Saukuru, Filimoni Waqainabete, Isei Vuluma, Epeli Bogitini and Filipe Batiwale.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Professor Steven Ratuva, for opportunities to flex my thinking and understand wider contexts for my work. Vinaka vakalevu to Lydia Baxendell for support, tips and understanding of balancing curator life with toddler mum life. Thank you to the University of Canterbury staff who helped me feel welcome. Ofa lahi atu to the Wong famili, the Aniseko famili, and the grounding energies of Lanuola Mereia Aniseko. A big thank you to Jamie, Fiona and Hope, and the spirits of The Physics Room – it has been a privilege. 

Works List

Mafoa e ata (Dawn) (2017)
Smoke on canvas
Kulimoe’anga ‘Stone’ Maka

Vanua Domoni, Fiji Day 2017, Canterbury (2017)
University of Canterbury Fijian Students Association
Video by Ema Tavola

PIMPImanifesto (2017)
Written by Ema Tavola with support from Tanu Gago, Leilani Kake and Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai. Graphic design by Nicole Lim.

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Detail, “Untitled” (2017) by Kulimoe’anga Maka | Photograph by Hōhua Ropate Kurene

Kaitani

Featuring the University of Canterbury Fijian Students Association and new work by Kulimoe’anga Stone Maka
Curated by Ema Tavola

24 November – 24 December 2017
The Physics Room
, 209 Tuam Street, Christchurch


In Fijian, kaitani refers to one who is from outside, or from another community, province or country.

As the culmination of curator, Ema Tavola’s residency with the University of Canterbury Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, Kaitani interrogates the presence of Pacific art in the contemporary gallery space.

Accompanying her curatorial manifesto, a short video made during her residency reflects Tavola’s long-held interest in the creation of safe space and genuine engagement of Pacific peoples, their ways of seeing and being, art histories and cultural narratives.

In the work of East Christchurch-based painter, Kulimoe’anga Stone Maka, multisensory memories of Tonga are embedded in his mark making technique. In recent paintings, paraffin lamp smoke-stained canvas captures the ephemerality of time and space in brooding, galactic landscapes of blackness and whiteness and everything in between.

The exhibition’s soundscape pays homage to the unifying act of singing as a group. The Fijian song, Vanua Domoni was sung on the occasion of this year’s Fiji Independence Day by students and community members at the University of Canterbury. The song lyrics reflect a deep love and longing for Fiji, and evokes the pride and identity of Fijians both at home and away.

Tavola’s curatorial manifesto has been written as a result of her residency and copies will be available for the duration of the exhibition. She will discuss her manifesto in the context of the exhibition, along with exhibiting artist Kulimoe’anga Stone Maka in a talanoa / conversation at 1pm, Saturday 25 November.

  • More about Kulimoe’anga Stone Maka here
  • More on Ema Tavola’s curatorial practice here
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I organised a small-scale exhibition of three Fiji artists for Fiji Day here at the University of Canterbury. It was a make-shift effort in the Pasifika Lali Room where we held three Fijian Language Week inspired talks. The works framed the events including a Fiji Day celebration hosted by the Fijian Students Association where a meke was performed by Christchurch Fiji community kids. I’m grateful that the works of Joseph Hing and Margaret Aull gave these events and their audiences an opportunity to consider different ways of seeing Fiji and Fijian identity. This is the text I wrote to accompany the works:

To mark the anniversary of Fijian Independence from British colonial rule in 1970, Fijians celebrate ‘Fiji Day’ on the 10th of October. In Aotearoa, the Ministry of Pacific Peoples instigated the Pacific Languages Framework in 2007 to encourage the skill and fluency of Pacific language use amongst New Zealand’s Pacific communities. The week surrounding Fiji Day is acknowledged in New Zealand as Fijian Language Week.

Stimulating Pacific language development and retention has become a government initiative presumably because language is a key factor in cultural knowledge and identity. Communities who see themselves as strong and resilient, culturally rich and meaningful, have potential and agency. The opportunity for wider New Zealand society to engage and interact with Pacific cultures is an important process of interculturalism and so whilst Pacific language events can be and often are tokenistic gestures of social inclusion, there remains to be some value in the conscious awareness of different ways New Zealanders see and experience the world through language and expressions of identity.

In this small collection of photographic and mixed media works, three artists offer insights into their worldviews as Fijians.

Photography by Joseph Hing

Both within and beyond his professional capacity working as Senior Communications Assistant for Unicef Pacific, Joseph Hing has developed an astute knack of talking story through his social media presence (Twitter: @Viti_Kid, Instagram: @joseph_h84). In an era of citizen journalism, Hing’s photographic snapshots and cleverly crafted captions about events, places and observations of culture and flux have deepened and engaged international interest in the lesser seen sides of life in Fiji and Oceania.

Hing’s Suva is big skies and busy streets, textures of forgotten urban surfaces in stark contrast with the flowing curves of their natural landscape. In moments of balance between climate, commerce and culture, Hing draws references and traces of our past into the present, highlighting the precarious thrusts of Suva city, Fiji and Oceania into the future.

In our rapidly changing world, Hing’s work makes an important contribution to the digital visual archiving of Suva from the perspective of local eyes on local vistas. Void of any specific editorial narrative, Hing’s work is about appreciation; there is a romanticism to these records of everyday life. Hing speaks to the casual beauty and natural swagger of Suva city, the ‘New York of the Pacific’, a welcome and refreshing subversion of the stereotypical visual rhetoric of tourism, rugby and natural disasters

Full Tide (2017) by Margaret Aull

Margaret Aull is a Waikato-based painter, curator and arts manager whose Māori (Te Rarawa, Tūwharetoa) and Fijian ancestries frame her interests in the notion of tapu / tabu, a cultural construct embedded in most indigenous frameworks. Catholicism and totems, tohu / signs, warnings and ritual are mashed up in photo[copy]-graphic detail and hand-made brush strokes. Aull mixes acrylic paints with Fijian ochre and gold leaf, paper and found textures to create deluxe dreamscapes, which are as rich in the flesh as they translate through screens disguised as careful digital collages.

In two small works made specifically to honour Fiji Day at the University of Canterbury, Aull makes reference to the Fijian ritual of mourning for one hundred nights, and the colloquial language and centrality of yaqona (kava) drinking in building relationships and strengthening familial bonds.

Ema Tavola is the 2017 Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies Artist in Residence. She is a South Auckland-based practicing curator of Fijian and Pākehā heritage, and currently researching and writing a manifesto exploring modes of decolonising Pacific art curating.

Tavola’s curatorial approach comes by way of a visual arts practice. She has worked in painting, photo media and collage in recent years and has been fixated on the Fijian forms of civavonovono (breast plates) and war weaponry, and the politics of their visibility in international Museum collections. Through both curating and making, Tavola interrogates shifting value systems, power and ownership, and symbols of mana and presence for Pacific people as both artists and audiences.

This small exhibition was produced with support from the artists, Margaret Aull and Joseph Hing; Peter Sipeli (ArtTalk); Fiji Students Association, University of Canterbury; Steven Ratuva and Lydia Baxendell.

 

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I wanted to visit the Henri Matisse show at Christchurch Art Gallery because I’ve loved his work since I was a child. We had a print of the iconic Icarus in our home growing up and I was raised in Belgium where European painters and sculptors of the 20th century dominated my ideas of art and making. 

The exhibition showcases Matisse’s illustrated art book, Jazz (from the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales), and includes 20 colour stencil works and over 70 pages of hand-written text. Christchurch Art Gallery locates the collection firmly within an Aotearoa frame of reference by positioning Matisse’s work alongside two Cook Islands Tīvaevae and an installation of New Zealand artist, Richard Killeen, each of which employing a similar ‘cut-out’ aesthetic.

In the case of the two tīvaevae, the reference of this seemingly simple juxtaposition is a significant one. Matisse travelled to Tahiti in 1930 and spent a month in Papeete where he took photographs, drew in his sketchbooks, swam in the lagoons and acquired Tahitian textiles for his collection. His Tahiti trip is said to be the strongest influence on his art book, Jazz, which was first published in 1947.

In positioning these Tīvaevae in the context of Matisse, considering one was made in the 1890s, and the other in the 1980s, we see Matisse as part of a Pacific art continuum that is punctuated with exchanges and borrowing between Oceania and the West, Eastern Polynesia and Aotearoa.

There is an equalising effect that happens here. Curatorially, this is a nod to Moana aesthetics that gently subverts the problematic idea of primitivism, and the politics of ‘heritage arts’ and their place in the realm of the Gallery and the contemporary art world.

I’m particularly inspired by this curatorial positioning of Matisse in the context of where we are in the world because this felt like a significant oversight and lost opportunity in Auckland Art Gallery’s recent showing of The Body Laid Bare, an exhibition which also originated at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and co-curated with Tate. Auckland Art Gallery didn’t present any curatorial offerings that positioned the exhibition in the South Pacific, and whilst the show was full of important and interesting work, it felt isolated and elitist. This is an interesting review.

There was however an outreach effort by Auckland Art Gallery to create some form of localised commentary about the exhibition in the form of video interviews with Pacific artists. The series was produced for online circulation and Leilani Kake and I used the opportunity to offer some insights towards how this exhibition and its themes could have been programmed in a way that genuinely engages non-traditional audiences:

Christchurch Art Gallery, CoCA and The Physics Room have been creative sanctuaries on this trip. I’ve visited again and again, and the experiences have been rewarding and affirming. Thank you to all the staff who have engaged me, and my daughter, in conversation, greeted us warmly, given us time. It means a lot.

I’m one month into my residency at the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Canterbury.

One month into the thinking and research, reading and sharing that is informing my manifesto. Having been extracted from my comfort zone, removed from my community, the feeling of somewhat isolation, sometimes loneliness, has underpinned and magnified my thinking around the people of my work.

I’ve been asking myself, what is the whakapapa of your practice?

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South Auckland has been so good to me, but I have a deep longing to return to Fiji. Being away from home(s) has deepened the desire to retrace my migratory footprints back to my tūrangawaewae.

Fiji is always in my thoughts.

In writing a manifesto, my primary migration dream of coming to Aotearoa to get qualifications in order to open an art gallery in my hometown, Suva, is at the forefront of my mind. The post-migration / de-migration dream is now to open sister galleries/hubs in South Auckland and Suva, with a studio residency offered in Kadavu.

The manifesto feels like an important part of this de-/re-/post-migratory dreaming.

Flying Fijian drua, suspended in the foyer of Te Ao Marama, School of Māori and Indigenous Studies

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