Posts from the ‘South Auckland’ category

The 2017 Pacific Dance Festival launched last night in Māngere, South Auckland with a showcase of new and recent works by five women choreographers, Ojeya Cruz Banks (Guam), Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French (Cook Islands), Julia Mage’au Gray (Papua New Guinea), Losalio Milika Pusiaki (Tonga) and Tia Sagapolutele (Sāmoa). 

The poster, featuring an image by Julia Mage’au Gray, who features in the upcoming PIMPI Winter Series exhibition, Lovers Rock, reflects the refreshing regional diversity of this year’s programme. This image of the unique storied markings of Papua New Guinea tattoo on curving brown skin, juxtaposed against concrete and right-angles, is part of Mage’au Gray’s series, Mela out of context, made in response to her recent relocation from Darwin, Australia to Auckland.

The photographic element of Mage’au Gray’s practice was further explored in her choreographic work in the programme, Found Words. As a solo dance work, Mage’au Gray herself performed in response and harmony with a video projection of powerful stop-motion performances, and a moving audio track featuring the late, Dr Teresia Teaiwa reading her poetry, including her iconic, Fear of an Estuary…

Fear of an Estuary
By Teresia Teaiwa

I think I know what a coconut feels like after floating for so long in salt water
And suddenly entering an estuary
This sinking feeling I’m feeling it again
This sinking, sinking feeling

Have you ever heard of a coconut drowning?
I am afraid of estuaries
Somewhere told me they are rich feeding grounds for sharks
I’m not afraid of sharks
I am afraid of estuaries
If I were a coconut I would not want the ocean to meet a river
If I were a coconut you would be salt water
In calm or storm I could always float with you breathe in you until you met fresh water
And then I would sink, sink, sink

If I were a coconut and you were salt water
I would sink, sink, sink when you met fresh water
I would sink, sink, sink

But the wise one said I will not drown

© Teresia Teiawa

The voice and presence of Teresia Teaiwa, who passed away suddenly and tragically earlier this year, was triggering of so many tears. I was left reflecting again on the deep impact Teresia made on the writing and thinking about Oceania and what a privilege it was to know her. I was left with salty tears, and Teresia’s words – We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood (Teresia Teaiwa, As quoted in Hauʻofa, Epeli. We are the Ocean: Selected Works. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2008).

The large scale projection screen at Māngere Arts Centre was ideal to experience Ojeya Cruz Banks‘ short dance film, Tåno’ shot on location in Guåhan/Guam. Her words, representing a Chamorro and Micronesian perspective, and the solo dancer’s arching body in crackling, shady vegetation, with a tar seal highway and the ocean in the background, shot almost as if from the point of view of the forest, made this work mesmerising to watch.

Tai Akaki by Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French evoked the ocean in beautiful, waves of movement and rhythm, deep hues of blue in lighting and textures. The work spoke to the urgency of rising sea levels and the connectedness of our Islands with a pan-Oceania vocabulary of movement.

Photo courtesy of Raymond Sagapolutele

Tia Sagapolutele’s work, Ave was a force! Part Parris Goebelesque fierceness blended with the grace, awareness and sometimes awkardness of negotiating Sāmoan culture, its practices, stories and boundaries. An energising, heart thumping mash-up of siva Sāmoa, voguing, badass formations and brown girl magic!

Photo courtesy of Raymond Sagapolutele

The final performance of the night was a Tongan extravaganza! Choreographer, Losalio Milika Pusiaki, bought an intergenerational, feast of epic whole-community proportions! I loved it! All colour, no compromise on the length and presence of each component of the story. The men danced, the women danced, the children danced; the costumes from hair comb to ankle ornamentation were exquisite. There is no doubt, Tongans don’t do things by halves. I felt so close to this work, seeing traces of the relationship between Fiji and Tonga, in movement and regalia, in its truth and connectedness between past, present and future.

Photo courtesy of Raymond Sagapolutele

Thank you to Pacific Dance New Zealand; this opening night was uplifting, inspiring and moving. I’m not someone who engages much in the world of dance, but having this festival here in Manukau, South Auckland, and being able to support and share space with these brave creatives, dancers, storytellers and musicians, it means a lot.

Vinaka vakalevu!

Don’t miss out – tickets still available here!

In the age of Insta-challenges, selfies and the social currency of the click-like-share economy, visual culture can momentarily engage a seemingly infinite audience in a singular moment between photographer, lens and subject – viewer, screen and device.

In 2014, South Auckland-based photographer Vinesh Kumaran set himself the challenge of using his iPhone to shoot and share a portrait a day via photo-sharing app, Instagram. Initially conceived as a means to keep creatively active between commercial jobs, the project became a daily ritual, a visual discipline and public obsession that engaged new and diverse audiences with each new addition.

The impressive series was made over 365 days; it traces Kumaran’s footprints across Auckland, to the Far North and Sāmoa, around Aotearoa and deep into the nooks and crannies of his home suburb of Māngere. Through the square lens of Instagram, we encounter people and spaces, roller doors and weatherboards, living rooms, bikes, balls, mangroves… mats, scooters, bus stops…radiant juxtapositions and intriguing suburban camouflage.

In captions that accompany the portraits, each subject is credited; their name and age, where they live and sometimes where they are originally from. In short quotes that follow, the subject’s voice elevates the image and demystifies the gaze. Kumaran has approached strangers in the street, human to human, eye to eye; the quotes are sometimes secrets and sometimes mundane, but represent the space between the artist, the camera and the subject, and exist as the residue of the encounter.

Kumaran developed a keen interest in portraiture from documenting a highly personal journey retracing his family’s historical migration from India to Fiji and on to Aotearoa. The experience helped form an acute awareness of the power of the lens and the position of the photographer. His ability to manoeuvre through cultural difference, to find a common moment of connection has come to be a defining feature of his work, and the power of this common ground is most evident in projects that reflect and respond to his own lived experience.

“Open All Hours” series (2013) by Vinesh Kumaran

Open All Hours (2013), a series of portraits of dairy shop owners behind their counters, draws on Kumaran’s own experience of working in his family dairy. An experimental body of work documenting sugarcane farmers at the start of their days was made in Ba, the small town in rural Viti Levu, Fiji, where he grew up.

In his 2014-15 Instagram portrait project, Kumaran didn’t set out to create a ‘Humans of South Auckland’ type archive; the people of South Auckland so heavily represented in the series are a reflection of the artist’s life. He lives in Māngere, visits friends and relatives, shops and strolls in Papatoetoe, Manukau, Manurewa, Ōtāhuhu. The people he has encountered paint a rich picture of the region’s enormous diversity, connected by the common ground of being here, now. It is perhaps a timely depiction of a community in transition, where creeping gentrification and the inevitable displacement and resulting cultural shift, are redefining South Auckland every day.

This article was originally published in Art New Zealand (Issue 156, Summer 2015-16)

Hello, my name is Vinesh is a solo exhibition consisting of 74 Instagram portraits made between 2014-15. The exhibition opens the 2017 PIMPI Winter Series, supported by the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board and produced for Lime Espresso Bar & Eatery in Ōtāhuhu. Find out more here.

#RealTalk- safe space best practice (5)

I was invited to create an event for Artspace’s AMOR MUNDI conversation series and took the opportunity to present a panel discussion with three of my peers who work hard every day creating platforms, channels and space for diverse indigenous communities to participate in the arts. I was able to also locate the event not in central Auckland, but closer to home in South Auckland.

#RealTalk: Safe Space / Best Practice seeks to unpack the notion of safe space within the context of curating and programming arts and culture in Aotearoa. The panel draw on experience working at the interface of institutions and communities, navigating the tectonic plates of cultural difference and the tricky terrain of social inclusion.

At the heart of Kolokesa U. Māhina-Tuai’s curatorial practice is her strong foundation of Tongan indigenous knowledge and practice. This gives her a unique understanding and appreciation of the depth and breadth of Moana Pacific arts when applied through their own respective lenses, and informs her relationships and collaborations with artists from different island nations. From museums and galleries to grassroots community organisations, and through exhibitions, events, commissioned works, conferences and publications, Kolokesa champions the importance of a holistic and cyclical perspective of Moana Pacific arts that is rooted in indigenous knowledges and practices. She currently works as Project Curator Pacific at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Leilani Kake (Ngā Puhi, Tainui, Manihiki, Rakahanga) is an artist and educator. She holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts and Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Arts from the Faculty of Creative Arts, Manukau Institute of Technology, and a Master of Fine Arts from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland. Leilani’s arts practice is rooted within New Zealand and Cook Island Māori ideology, speaking to the universal human condition of identity, culture, tradition and change through deeply visceral personal stories. She currently works as Gallery Coordinator at Papakura Art Gallery, a community arts facility in South Auckland.

Tanu Gago is an artist, photographer, producer and queer activist currently working as the community engagement coordinator Pacific for the New Zealand AIDS Foundation working in HIV prevention. He is a founding member of the Love Life Fono Charitable Trust set up to drive community-led social development for Rainbow Pacific communities. Tanu is also the creative director of the FAFSWAG Arts Collective.

Our event is being held this Saturday 13 May from 2pm at the old Ōtāhuhu Library, a mixed use community facility located at 12-16 High Street.


The venue has been offered to us by the current tenants, Ōtāhuhu-Māngere Youth Group, who have worked hard to create a safe space for local young people. Post-event refreshments are provided by Lime Espresso Bar & Eatery, site for the upcoming PIMPI Winter Series!

#RealTalk: Safe Space / Best Practice endeavours to be family friendly event, childrens’ activities will be provided and parents room facilities are available.

This event has been made possible with the support from Artspace, Ōtāhuhu Māngere Youth Group and Lime Espresso Bar & Eatery.

100% free, all welcome!

I was invited by Ioana Gordon-Smith and Lana Lopesi to write one of five feature articles on the subject of community art for Localise, a temporary newspaper publication that accompanied this year’s Whau Arts Festival. Check it out…

When stars align

The idea of community arts is a loaded, emotional topic for me; my position is muddied by several competing tensions.

Being a Pacific Islander, in diaspora, being a marginalised ethnic(mixed race)-other in the context of dominant culture.

Being a former public servant and messy restructure refugee in post-Global Financial Crisis, National Party-led New Zealand.

Being over-qualified and under-employed.

Being poor.

Being privileged.

Having the agency to be outspoken about all of the above.

But mostly, being an artist based in the Ōtara-Papatoetoe area of Manukau/South Auckland, where I’ve lived for most of my adult life.

I’ve been a vocal critic of the ways ‘arts and culture’ are delivered as public service in my city in recent years. From public art decisions to cronyism and questionable curating, I’ve come to think that in between my ideas of best practice and what “aspirational”[i] programming looks like to the powers that be, there is a galaxy of disengaged stars and black holes of cosmic confusion.

On my planet, aspirational community arts programming is about people first, art second. It’s part grassroots, part global, part digital, part old school. It’s all ages, all the time. It’s holistic and healing. From my lived experience on this far-flung planet, worlds away from Auckland’s Queen Street, the arts are people-centric, voice-enabling, capacity building.

If a community arts centre was to reflect my aspirations, the power and potential of local artists would be harnessed and honed, supported and celebrated. You could spend hours at my aspirational art centre; meeting people, laughing, being moved, playing, thinking. As an artist, you would feel empowered knowing your contribution to the world is valid, and you’re part of a global community who reflect and respond to their lives and environments through creative languages.

This aspirational community arts centre would prioritise those who are local to the area in which it sits. It would have a firm grasp of the histories of its space and residents, and the experiences of those who live, work, shop… struggle and thrive within its shared environment. It would be sensitive towards vulnerable groups, and understand and promote the potential of art to heal, engage, open minds and affect change. Through this knowing, it would be able to offer profound and grounded experiences to visitors from beyond the area, who are afforded an insight into a unique community, as represented through its arts and people.

Exhibitions at this aspirational arts centre would be diverse and exciting; every single one designed with the audience in mind – children, tourists, old people, young people, critics… mums, dads, cynics, bureaucrats. Exhibitions wouldn’t please everyone all the time, but clever interpretive texts, bold and innovative public programming and user-friendly curating would help break down perceptions of artistic elitism. Exhibitions would be programmed by a committee of strategic, brainy, community-minded individuals, 75% of whom would be local residents to capture the vested interest that only locals can impart on decision making that affects their own community.

Exhibition proposals would be welcomed all year long, and this community arts centre would host free exhibition planning workshops and curatorial skills seminars, because the community would be seen as an immense creative resource, not a threat to curatorial egos. Artists, curators, marketers, film makers, project managers, musicians, brokers and advisors would be invited to monthly networking hui with inspiring speakers, arty speed dating and locally sourced catering.

Exhibiting artists would spend time in this community of mine, understanding, talking, responding to the site their work would sit within. Their exchanges would be respectful and reciprocal. Meaningful engagement with local people and groups would be the primary measure of success in this aspirational arts centre, not incentivised surveys taken at exhibition openings, or reviews in mainstream media.

This aspirational arts centre would constantly question its own practice, and listen, all the time. It would draw on the knowledge and insights of audiences to understand what works and what doesn’t, call on artists to inform its creative services, consult with businesses and NGOs to develop collaborative projects and partnerships. As an evolving space, change would be exciting and considered, not threatening and personal.

As a space activated by people, it would be proud to provide areas for gathering, for sitting and talking, for breastfeeding, singing softly to babies, for calming toddlers. Spaces for raucousness, for reading, spaces for privacy.

And there would be coffee… the best coffee in town! The kind that people would drive for, that makes the heart beat faster, and it would be good, really good, every time. The café owners would be happy because this aspirational arts centre would attract diverse audiences every day. Excellent WiFi, comfortable seating and lots of plants and natural light would make this the freshest spot in town and people would come back again, and again.

My aspirational community arts centre would be integrated fully and purposefully into its natural, social, cultural and economic landscape. It would host meetings, training sessions, pop-up art sales, poetry, performances, workshops, product and book launches. It would respond to the needs and interests of its community and be transparent about its agendas. Good governance and effective leadership would be practiced, encouraged and promoted. The centre’s internships would be so well designed that it would become a turbine for community arts leaders, enablers, movers and shakers.

Artists would be on waiting lists to be part of the rich and vital professional development programme this arts centre would offer! In workshops and seminars, projects and publications, artists would have the opportunity to learn about pricing and selling their work, diversifying and monetising a creative practice, writing artist statements, proposals, bio notes, starting blogs, taking good photos, project management and communication skills, marketing, branding, budgeting, funding…

In my community, the economic potential of creativity is rarely demonstrated; the creative industries are hard to quantify when most artists people know are teachers / WINZ case managers / administrators / call centre operators / video shop clerks / road workers… or on the dole. My aspirational arts centre would understand this reality.

Exhibitions and events are great, but education pathways and tangible opportunities, role models and success stories are necessary to make the creative industries visible, tangible and accessible.

Here, the WORD art is unpacked, redefined, owned / disowned. Art is inextricable from people; it is embedded in culture, intuitive and empowering, a gift and a privilege. My aspirational art centre would discredit the common perception that Pacific youth somehow have disproportionate talent in the creative arts, because the potential of Pacific youth is limitless, in any field.

And everything this aspirational arts centre would deliver would be underpinned by an acute understanding of service, audience and accountability.

Back in reality, my local community arts centres are still galactically dislocated from my expectations and aspirations, which are grounded in 15 years of living, breathing, loving, teaching, hyping up, blogging, picking up, framing, hanging, installing, advocating, hosting, buying, selling… and listening to artists from my community.

I think longingly of the kind of programming, partnerships and innovation that happens in places like Studio Museum Harlem, the incredible and inspiring entrepreneurialism of local artists in Bandung, Indonesia, and the way the four-yearly Festival of Pacific Arts embraces the breadth of socially and culturally entrenched creative practices, from healing arts to tattoo, poetry to pan-pipes and literally everything in between. I think about the site specificity and casual sophistication of Footscray Arts Centre in Melbourne, and the effortless cool of the The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt.

In New Zealand’s largest and most ethnically diverse urban centre, the country’s super city guinea pig, the local has become the pan-local. Territory gained in wholesale branding and global rankings of ‘liveability’, is lost ground in terms of social inclusion, meaning and mana.

How do we measure quality in the delivery and presentation of community arts / art in community spaces?

Ask, listen and take time to understand the community’s aspirations. Respond, enable, facilitate, and channel resource. Watch the stars align.

Ema Tavola
October 2015

[i] Scott, H. (23 March, 2014). Local galleries and the community. Retrieved 29 August, 2015, from

I made an experimental art publication called Art Takeaway 10 years ago

It was the first project I produced in Otara, for Otara, in a way my first ‘exhibition’, definitely the first time I secured funding, and the first time I publicly declared my slightly bumbling position and thinking about art, audiences and site specificity. It was black and white and featured photography and page works by 10 artists. I launched it at the Otara Market on July 9, 2005, which attracted the attention of TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika, who did a slightly bizarre story on the project, thankfully before the days of YouTube.

After participating in Papakura Art Gallery’s Ako Art Bus Tour this week, an initiative supported with funds from Papakura Local Board for the Auckland region-wide Matariki Festival, I got to thinking about the values of community arts and participation, empowering audiences and the different ways engagement is measured. I’m writing about these themes for an upcoming essay that’ll be published during the Whau Arts Festival, an excellent site-specific community-driven programme supported by the Whau Local Board.

I found my only copy of Art Takeaway the other day. The first page features this imagined conversation between time and space…


Art Takeaway Ta-Va, Ema Tavola 2005

A series of six photographs from the Polyfest Portrait Project is now on permanent display at Manukau Institute of Technology’s new centrally located Manukau campus! Commissioned by the Institute, the series is entitled, Portrait of a Generation. This selection was made specifically for the site – the massive exterior wall of the new campus theatre; the photographs are best viewed from outside the building on Davies Avenue.

The Polyfest Portrait Project is an ongoing photographic collaboration between Manukau Institute of Technology graduates, Vinesh Kumaran, photographer, and artist Ema Tavola.

Since 2009, they’ve set up a make-shift photo studio at the festival to document elements of personal style from bold fashion ensembles to eye-catching hair art. In a series of now over 300 photographs, the Polyfest Portrait Project captures youth in South Auckland as proud, culturally grounded and full of potential.

Vinesh and Ema worked with MIT Faculty of Creative Arts students to produce the 2014 series sharing their knowledge and experience in photography and portraiture techniques, project management and curatorial processes.

About the Artists

Pursuing a Bachelor of Visual Arts at MIT enabled Vinesh’s first foray into photography. His graduate work documented a highly personal journey retracing his family’s historical migration from India to Fiji and on to New Zealand. The experience helped form an acute awareness of the power of the lens and the position of the photographer.

Studying visual arts gave Vinesh a strong technical and critical perspective on the discipline of photography as well as a deep respect for portraiture. After graduating, he moved into the commercial sector where he’s been able to work on notable national and international photographic campaigns in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. He’s currently working on a powerful series of daily portraits of individuals he encounters on his travels and within his day-to-day life living in Māngere; the entire series is shot on an iPhone and accessible via Instagram.

Ema majored in sculpture and loved contextual studies and writing. With a special interest in Pacific art and audiences, she got involved with volunteering opportunities and started working on public exhibitions and community events during her final year of study. She went on to manage Fresh Gallery Otara and held the role of Pacific Arts Coordinator for Manukau City Council (later Auckland Council) from 2006-2012. Ema now works as a freelance arts manager, curator and advisor offering an annual internship to senior Creative Arts students to gain professional experience in arts project management.

Check out another selection of works from the 2014 Polyfest Portrait Project published on the NZ Herald website.

Sm PolyfestHairProject install

Hear Vinesh and Ema discussing the second manifestation of the Polyfest Portrait Project in the form of the Polyfest Hair Project that was first shown at Fresh Gallery Otara in May 2012.

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I was invited to speak at the 40th Pecha Kucha Night in Auckland last week, an acknowledgement of six years of collaboration with Pecha Kucha Night New Zealand founder, Luka Hinse.

In 2008, I was part of the first Pecha Kucha Night in South Auckland, presented as part of the Manukau Festival of Arts. I went on to curate and contribute to four more excellent Southside events at Metro Theatre, Mangere Arts Centre and a very special outdoor event in the Otara Community Courtyard in 2011. I’ve loved being involved with this inspiring event format (20 images x 20 seconds), Luka’s vision and his deep respect for South Auckland.

My presentation last week was entitled, Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies. I wanted to speak about some current projects and the idea of community. Here’s how it went down…

01The title of my presentation is a reference to a line in a Tupac song… Real eyes, realize, real lies. This is a self portrait I did on one of the days that I listened to Tupac all day. When I realised that none of my friends appreciated Tupac the way I did growing up, I realised I needed new friends. His political and social commentary has influenced me for almost 20 years.


I used manage a community art gallery in South Auckland called Fresh Gallery Otara. Otara is a community I’ve lived in and around for the past 12 years; it’s a home away from home, a piece of the Pacific once removed. This was one of my favourite gatherings welcoming Emory Douglas of the Black Panther movement, to South Auckland in 2009. He returned last year to exhibit at the Gallery, but Fresh now is not what is used to be.

03I’m part of an collective called Oceania Interrupted, which was established by a very dynamic and passionate primary school teacher called Leilani Salesa. She initially called together Māori and Pacific women to participate in an artistic intervention to raise awareness for the plight of West Papua.

In a performance called, “Rise of the Morning Star” the West Papuan flag was raised 15 times at traffic intersections on Auckland’s Queen Street on West Papuan Independence Day, December 1st.


The number 15 is symbolic in reference to the high profile case of political prisoner of Filep Karma, who was sentenced to 15 in jail for raising the West Papuan flag. The plan became to do 15 interventions or Actions in and around Auckland and South Auckland to raise awareness and create discussion around West Papua, freedom and what can be done as New Zealanders.

Action 2 took place at the Otara Market in December 2013.

05 Auckland’s Pasifika Festival was an ideal space to create visibility for the plight of Pacific people using Pacific bodies. This was Action 3 entitled, “Free Pasifika – Free West Papua”. 14 women with bare feet and bound hands, dressed in black lavalava adorned their faces with the Morning Star flag and marched silently from village to village.

06Oceania Interrupted draws women together in different capacities – there are those who put their bodies on the front line, to perform and confront; those who hand out fliers and talk to the staring public, and those who work quietly behind the scenes. A project to make an Oceania Interrupted T-shirt was undertaken by MIT Faculty of Creative Arts student, Katarina Katoa.

???????????????????????????????With support from the Faculty’s print department, the t-shirt was designed and produced in Otara with funds committed by other women in the collective. The sale of Katarina’s T-shirts support Oceania Interrupted’s future actions and can be purchased from

This project was made possible with the excellent support of Steve Lovett, one of the most passionate and supportive lecturers I’ve had the privilege to learn from and work with.

08 In a shift from performance-based interventions, Action 4 took the form of a video that invited women to interview people in their lives about freedom, visibility of Pacific issues and West Papua. 10 women participated contributing in excess of 24 individual interviews. Woven together with footage of past actions, the video was launched at a gathering on World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd at Fresh Gallery Otara.

09In essence, Oceania Interrupted strives to bring West Papua into the consciousness of the communities that surround us as Māori and Pacific women in Aotearoa. Our freedom is inextricably bound up with that of our Pacific West Papuan brothers and sisters.

Our next Action is on August 9, International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. Find us on Facebook for updates!

10I teach a paper at MIT Faculty of Creative Arts called Pacific Art Histories: An Eccentric View. It’s the evolution of a paper first developed for the Institute by Albert Refiti and the late, great Jim Vivieaere. Jim’s legacy plays heavy on my mind in this important role. I’m proud that Pacific art and culture has been discussed openly and thoroughly at MIT for the past 13 years.

???????????????????????????????My current class are almost midway through their degree studies; Pacific Art Histories is now a mandatory theory paper in year 2. The course covers topics including: misrepresentation and colonisation, gender and sexuality, curating, tattoo, online Pacific identities and global Pacific experience, hip hop and empowerment, diaspora problems and creative entrepreneurship.

12That last photo was taken with Fijian artist and activist, Luisa Tora; she produced a poster project for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia last month and discussed her curatorial process, personal position and politics with the class. Other speakers have included Samoan comic book artist and pro-wrestler Michel Mulipola and Tongan art historian and tattooist, Stan Lolohea.

13A photographer I’ve worked with for the past 8 years is Vinesh Kumaran. He works as a commercial photographer and is passionate about portraiture; I’ve loved seeing his personal work develop over the years. This series entitled, “Open All Hours” documents dairy owners across the Auckland region; it’s inspired by Vinesh’s own history of working in his family’s dairy in Mangere Bridge. This is one of my favourite works from the series.

14Tu’itupou Aniseko is my partner’s father; he’s a stoic man, a proud Tongan. Vinesh was working on a series documenting Pacific people in their home environments, and Tu’i accepted the request to be photographed. He stood motionless mostly and then, broke out into Tongan dance.

He said of this photo, that this is the one he would want at his funeral – this is the way he wanted people to remember him.

15Vinesh and I have collaborated on a portraiture series at the annual ASB Polyfest in South Auckland since 2009. We’ve set up a make-shift photography studio in a marquee and selected interesting and charismatic individuals to create series focused on style, hair and attitude. This year’s series, commissioned by MIT, was called “Portrait of a Generation”. This is John, he’s Tuvaluan, from Massey.

16What we aimed to do with the portraits we made at Polyfest was centralise the subject. That the image and the moment between the subject and the lens represents all that they are, their ancestors and their mana. There was no parallel agenda, no profit; I’m interested in the act of photography as empowerment… my people are not props.

17The last series we made at Polyfest created an opportunity for three Visual Arts students to assist on the project. They got insights into project management, client liaison and dynamics, photographing members of the public and explaining release forms. Their input in scouting for subjects created another dimension to this body of work that Vinesh and I really enjoyed.

18One of those students is Pati Solomona Tyrell, who featured in Samoan photographer, Tanu Gago’s 2012 series, “Avanoa o Tama”. Pati is Tanu’s partner in life and art. This work was first shown at Fresh Gallery Otara, went on to be shown at Auckland Art Gallery and later featured on the front cover of Art New Zealand. Tanu is another South Auckland artist I love and have had the privilege of working with.

19Tanu was awarded this year’s Auckland Festival of Photography Sacred Hill Annual Commission and his new series, “Tama’ita’i Pasifika Mao’i” opened last night at Silo 6. I love that Tanu talks about ‘creating a universe of Pacific identity’ from his unique position in South Auckland. Of this work, he explains the idea of capturing the exhaustion of performing culture for the dominant gaze.

20Of all the ideas of I’ve just mentioned concerning culture, community, caring, of action and accountability… this is an exhibition that sums it up for me. Kolose: The Art of Tuvalu Crochet is currently on at Mangere Arts Centre. In my humble opinion, it is the best exhibition that has ever been presented there; a massive congratulations to Fafine Niutao i Aotearoa and curators Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai and Marama Papau!

It is a Southside must see!


Oceania Interrupted produced this video for a gathering on World Press Freedom Day, Saturday 3 May, in collaboration with South Auckland-based film maker, artist and activist, Tanu Gago.

As the fourth of 15 planned interventions to raise awareness for West Papua  in Aotearoa New Zealand, Action 4 took the form of a call for women to conduct interviews and discuss the issue of West Papua, visibility and freedom with people in their lives. The interviews are woven together with footage from previous Oceania Interrupted interventions or actions, along with imagery and footage that has inspired the collective.

I love being part of Oceania Interrupted; it is life-giving and deeply empowering. Massive thanks to the women who participated and to those who were interviewed, to Tanu Gago who laboured for many hours processing footage and editing, to all the women who have been involved and will be involved in future actions. To Fresh Gallery Otara for hosting our launch and gathering on World Press Freedom Day, to the Faculty of Creative Arts at Manukau Institute of Technology for supporting the project and to everyone who has contributed to this collective effort. We ALL share one love for West Papua and in small ways, hope to be contributing to broadening awareness, mobilising action and affecting change.

Oceania Interrupted: Empowering Collective Action

More information:

Photo by Ema Tavola

The OTARAcube is a permanent exhibition space in the Otara Town Centre; it is a 10×10 foot customised container gallery managed by Manukau Institute of Technology Faculty of Creative Arts developed with support from the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board.

A week-long event called Proudly Otara is taking place in the Otara Town Centre this week and to mark the occasion, I’ve installed a quick pop-up exhibition showcasing photos, posters, fliers and artwork from community art events that have taken place in and around the Otara Town Centre over the past decade. The material is from both my own and Fresh Gallery Otara’s archives; the Gallery’s programming since 2006 is well represented, but there is also material from Fresh Gallery Otara’s predecessor, Artnet Gallery, which ran up until 2004 and was managed by Wahine Malosi Charitable Trust. Artnet Gallery was where I cut my teeth as a curator; it was a foundation that embedded a sense of community arts service delivery and relational accountability deep into my psyche.

This past week, I was interviewed by Justin Gregory for Radio New Zealand’s weekly arts programme, Standing Room Only. In January, I presented some concerns to the Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board of Auckland Council regarding the exhibition programming at Mangere Arts Centre, a community arts facility in the Mangere Town Centre. I’m concerned with the disconnect regional arts programming has with local communities under the unitary Auckland Council and that there are no public opportunities for feedback or dialogue between those who produce local arts programming and the audiences they supposedly serve. The Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board were responsive to the concerns I raised saying that similar sentiments were felt both within the Board and from community members; they planned to follow up with Auckland Council’s Arts and Culture unit to respond but as yet, I’ve heard nothing. The Manukau Courier published a story and since then, I’ve received a huge amount of support from South Auckland residents who believe strongly in what was said.

Radio New Zealand’s story was aired on Sunday 23 March and features comments from Hanna Scott, Arts and Culture Programmes manager for Auckland Council:

[audio|titles=Local Galleries and the Community, Standing Room Only, Radio New Zealand, 23 March 2014]

Interestingly, I listened to this whilst installing the Proudly Otara exhibition at the OTARAcube. Whilst the exhibition only represents a sliver of the arts and cultural events and activities that have happened in and around the Otara Town Centre since 2003, there is an overarching theme of community accountability and ownership. The voice and visibility of community aspiration and pride is at the forefront of what I’ve been fortunate enough to produce and be involved with during my time here in Manukau, South Auckland. For people who live and work here, a connection to this community is not as simple as catching a “South Auckland bus” (Hanna Scott) and relational accountability is demonstrated in action, not just words.

I’m happy that from a blog, which led to a presentation to the Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board, that inspired a story in the Manukau Courier, a national radio discussion about Auckland Council’s accountability to the Mangere and wider Manukau community has happened. I’m also developing an article for an upcoming issue of The Vernacularist on the theme of community and relational accountability – watch this space!

Proudly Otara starts today in the Otara Town Centre and this morning, Toakase Women’s Group have presented an impressive display of Tongan hand-crafted adornment. There are performances, displays and activities scheduled for the Otara Town Centre stage areas throughout the week; check out the Otara Business Association Facebook page for more details.

Tattoo 4 TongaDriven by Stanley Lolohea from Urban Kupesi Tattoos, TATTOO 4 TONGA is a unique event seeking to raise funds for Tropical Cyclone Ian relief for the people of Ha’apai, Tonga.

Featuring Polynesian tattooists Duss Malaesilia, Kirby Tavita, Geoffrey Siale Thomas as well as Stanley Lolohea, TATTOO 4 TONGA will be a one-day live art event at Fresh Gallery Otara on Saturday 15 February. Audiences will have the opportunity to watch the artists working live from 9am – 2pm, artworks and prints will also be available for sale with ALL proceeds going to support Cyclone Ian relief efforts in Ha’apai.

  • Tattoo appointments need to be made in advance by contacting the individual artists – see below for details.

Supported by Auckland-based Tongan art collective, No’o Fakataha, TATTOO 4 TONGA will also be an opportunity to pick up artworks and prints by contemporary Tongan artists that are priced to sell! PIMPI + Friends will also be selling a range of artworks from contemporary Pacific artists; details of which will be released via Facebook leading up to the event.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Ian hit Tonga’s low-lying islands of Ha’apai in early January with wind speeds of up to 279km/hour. The Category 4 cyclone caused widespread destruction with homes and buildings flattened and thousands left homeless.

TATTOO 4 TONGA is an opportunity for Pacific artists in Auckland to contribute their time, energy and skills towards supporting Ha’apai in an act of Pacific solidarity.


TATTOO 4 TONGA event enquiries: Ema Tavola, Mb 027 5779369 / Email

Tattoo Artists:

Stanley Lolohea (Urban Kupesi Tattoos)
Instagram: @urbankupesitattoos

Duss Malaesilia
Instagram: @Marxduss

Kirby Tavita (Sanctify Tattoo Studio)
Instagram: @owingcollective

Geoffrey Siale Thomas
Instagram: @teddytatts


Date: Saturday 15 February 2014
Time: 9am – 2pm
Venue: Fresh Gallery Otara, 5/46 Fairmall, Otara Town Centre, South Auckland

Venue enquiries: Nicole Lim, Gallery Coordinator, Ph (09) 261 8030 / Email

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