2017 was a year of hard hustle! Through five curatorial projects and a solo show, a three month residency with a three year old, a little bit of heartbreak and a manifesto, these are a few of the stand-out memories of 2017…
Researching Pacific artists + creative entrepreneurship
In a short research project commissioned by British Council New Zealand and Tautai Trust, I had the opportunity to undertake a series of in-depth interviews with Pacific artists in Auckland who work full-time as creative professionals. With the hope of feeding into the development of a customised capacity building programme, interviewees shared vital insights towards understanding the struggles and opportunities of finding the sweet spot between financial sustainability whilst maintaining artistic and cultural integrity.
“Still trying to find a way to operate within a framework that doesn’t care too much whether we’re there or not.” ~ PCE Needs Analysis Interviewee
The research was revealing, and sobering. The work that Pacific creative entrepreneurs do amazes and inspires me; many projects have deep cultural significance and have been personally and emotionally transformative. It’s the kind of work that I think many people would never imagine being paid to do, which reminded me again of the privilege of being attuned to one’s creative potential, and the privilege of public funding that enables so much of this enquiry. For many Pacific artists, a creative practice is unavoidably a community and collective pursuit, so the benefits are rarely for individual gains.
The challenges of being undervalued, structural racism, discrimination and stereotyping and a disregard for the Pacific creative process, are lingering issues surrounding many practitioners. Sometimes, the organisations and clients who benefit the most from the cultural integrity of Pacific artists, are the worst offenders.
The impact of this research for me personally has been significant. As an arts manager and curator, I understand more about my peers and our realities, the value of building and nurturing communities of practice, the powerful potential of collaboration and the vital roles Pacific artists play in the social, political and economic development of our Pacific communities.
Hello, my name is Vinesh
Having worked together on projects for more than a decade, I loved curating Vinesh Kumaran’s first solo exhibition, Hello, my name is Vinesh this year as the first exhibition in the PIMPI Winter Series. From 2015-16, Kumaran shot and shared a portrait a day, made in and around his work and rest time, in South Auckland and beyond. He had wanted to hone and test his skills and passion for portraiture, and throughout the year, his photographs and their narrative weight grew stronger and stronger. The Instagram format helped to perfectly curate the series and as the collection grew, the audience for his work diversified and deepened in their engagement. The series was originally intended for a large scale exhibition at Mangere Arts Centre but translated beautifully to Lime Espresso Bar & Eatery in Ōtāhuhu, produced with support from the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board.
Employing the same approach, Vinesh went on to shoot a series of portraits for Paperboy magazine, featuring on the front cover of the 7-13 September issue. Working together again, we have another project in the pipeline for 2018 profiling individuals involved in creative and commercial businesses in the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu area. Watch this space!
The Perpetual Flux of Transitional Otherness
Exhibiting with two of my closest friends, Margaret Aull and Leilani Kake, was one of my favourite exhibition experiences. We encouraged and supported each other, shared ideas and individually produced cohesive bodies of work that seemed to complement each other effortlessly.
The exhibition was produced for Olly, the coffee and donut shop co-owned by Chlöe Swarbrick, who went on to be a hugely valuable addition to the New Zealand Green Party in the 2017 general election. The exhibition was inspired by and produced to tautoko this young politician who rose to notoriety for her courageous bid for the Auckland mayoralty in the 2016 local government elections. The last painting in my Poedua series was eventually traded with Sāmoan tattoo practitioner, Tyla Vaeau-Ta’ufo’ou who gave me a beautiful custom piece based on the leaves of the Tavola tree (Terminalia catappa).
Tā-Vā (Time-Space) Theory of Reality in Māngere
In July, the esteemed Hūfanga Dr Ōkusitino Māhina and the Kula Uli Publishing team hosted the launch of a Special Issue of the Journal of Pacific Studies (published by Brigham Young University Hawai’i) dedicated to the Tā-Vā (Time-Space) Theory of Reality. The Māngere Arts Centre galleries were packed to capacity as the publication’s New Zealand-based contributors spoke to the influence of Māhina and how Tā-Vā (Time-Space) Theory of Reality has shaped their work and thinking.
A complex discourse between natives, fobs and academics
After a haunting intergenerational group performance of fangufangu (nose flute), the publication’s contributors responded to probing questions about the relevance and implementation of Tā-Vā (Time-Space) Theory of Reality in academia, at grassroots levels and as a lens on New Zealand national culture.
In the process of seeing Hūfanga in the midst of this highly conceptual but grounded discussion, it hit me how precious these times are – it is such a privilege to share intellectual energy and dialogue with courageous thought leaders who push boundaries and re-shape histories. The publication is a special resource, but being present within these exchanges, as Māhina put it, “a complex discourse between natives, fobs and academics“, in the cultural context of both Tongan hospitality and art, made this moment incredibly meaningful.
Konile Fusitua, a quiet muse
Through my daughter, Konile Fusitua is my 16 year old nephew. He relocated from Portland, Oregon to South Auckland last year and has spent his first full year at Papatoetoe High School. I started following Konile on Instagram and became an instant fan of his bold aesthetic, blending symbols of popular culture and Pacific cultural imagery, tracing the expansion of his world and his place within it.
Konile is constantly refining, editing and curating his Instagram feed, which I find fascinating; the chronological archive has perhaps become archaic within the philosophy of Snapchat ephemerality. I love his fascination with Gucci, and his fresh appreciation for the Pacific Island cultural saturation of Southside. I included Konile’s work in the PIMPI Winter Series exhibition, #CHANGES in July; it was his first show, and I hope, first of many.
Femslick – Akashi Fisiinaua
Akashi Fisiinaua’s solo show, Femslick debuted as the first work in FAF SWAG’s 2017 residency partnership with Basement Theatre in central Auckland. In a short season that added the essential flavour of FAF SWAG to the Auckland Pride Festival programme, Fisiinaua directed a stunning audience experience as close to ball culture realness as you can get. As the chanter of FAF SWAG’s Vogue balls, Fisiinaua transitioned the role into a narrative tool that brought the electric energy of ball culture to a potent, intimate and intense theatre experience.
Fisiinaua is a recent graduate of Toi Whakaari’s renowned Performing Arts (Acting) degree programme. The technical skill, lyricism and performative awareness she brings to FAF SWAG Vogue ball culture was translated seamlessly to a theatre setting, a first iteration of iconic and disruptive storytelling that continued beautifully throughout FAF SWAG’s residency with Fa’aafa by Pati Solomona Tyrell and Neon Bootleg by Moe Laga.
The remarkable momentum of artist Pati Solomona Tyrell
Fresh out of art school, Pati Solomona Tyrell has had an incredible year! Working commercially, his photography of strong, culturally powerful Pacific Islanders has made some of the most iconic Paperboy magazine covers yet. His work as a photographer and performance artist has been shown nationally and internationally and in June, ST PAUL St Gallery staged a massive solo exhibition of his work called Fāgogo.
Through FAF SWAG, Pati has been in the engine room working on everything from event coordination, large scale photoshoots, cross-cultural collaborations, documentaries and an incredible new app that is set for release in the new year. For a young artist, this has been a wild first year of post-art-school life, but along with the massive highs, a bitter blow intended to derail his practice was dealt from an unexpected source. Fortunately, that effort was met with a significant rally of support from our communities, and the utmost respect has been thrown down for Pati as he navigates new waters. His many successes are his dignified response and his future is unbearably bright!
Twitter < IRL
This year has been the eighth year I’ve used the social media platform, but the culture of Twitter has changed for me. What was once a relatively safe space, used by a relative minority of people from everyday life, has become so mainstream in New Zealand that the same voices, tone and attitudes you might hear in mainstream media, or in the comments section of the New Zealand Herald, seem to uncomfortably eclipse with my consciousness on an all too regular basis.
There’s this interesting accusation that has arisen time and time again of brown Twitter users of existing in bubbles, a similar line of criticism of the kind of Trump-ish politics where bias, opinions and hate speech dominate facts and research. The problem with this, and it has been directed at me more than once, is that the communities we’re part of on and offline, are often communities of shared beliefs, values and likeness that create supportive networks and intellectual ecosystems. It’s disturbing to me that these vital systems of survival and support, particularly for marginalised people living in dominant culture New Zealand, are seen in such a negative light.
On Twitter, where the conversations I’m part of revolve around race, racism, everyday politics, gender, parenting, localism and cultural identity, the line between right and wrong, truth and realness, is simultaneously multi-dimensional and non-existent. I’m tired of getting into Twitter beefs with faceless handles, particularly in the case where those individuals wouldn’t approach, engage or confront me in real life.
Twitter isn’t the safe space it once was.
Pacific arts managers changing the game in 2017
I’m uplifted when I see Pacific people in positions of influence in the arts and cultural sectors in New Zealand. Pacific arts managers bring unique intercultural competencies, fresh ideas and engaged intergenerational communities. 2017 has seen some excellent appointments of Pacific arts managers across gallery management and strategic leadership, curatorial programming and events, check it out…
Ioka Magele-Suamasi was appointed as Learning and Outreach Manager at Auckland Art Gallery in October. She vacated the role of Outreach Coordinator which was recently secured by rising star, Jasmine Te Hira. The role coordinating Education and Family Programmes is also now held by Emily Mafile’o.
Jep Savali was appointed Entertainment Manager for SkyCity, where he had previously worked as manager of the SkyCity Theatre. Jep is bringing a distinctly Pacific awareness to the live music and entertainment that takes place within and around the venue. Recently, the notoriously entertaining, Cindy of Samoa dazzled in a sold out solo show and the annual New Years Eve party boasts an impressive programme of Pacific musicians from Che Fu and King Kapisi to Three Houses Down, Sammy J, Sons of Zion and Malcolm Lakatani.
Simonne Likio was a well-known face at Fresh Gallery Ōtara until she was appointed in a new role within the restructured Funding and Capability Services team at Creative New Zealand as a much needed Auckland-based Pacific arts funding advisor.
Margaret Aull was appointed to a new role as Curator and Gallery Manager for Te Puia and the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) in November. She had previously worked as Curator and registrar of the collection of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and has just completed a year of freelancing and studying to complete a Post-Graduate Diploma of Business Management.
In September, Clinton Hewitt was appointed Gallery Coordinator for Fresh Gallery Ōtara, a facility of Auckland Council in the Ōtara Town Centre. Clinton studied Visual Arts at Manukau Institute of Technology after working for several years as a carver and interdisciplinary artist both in the Cook Islands and South Auckland. His company Tribal Designz specialises in customised 21st keys and ukulele.
Lana Lopesi was appointed Editor-in-Chief at The Pantograph Punch in July. She was previously the Visual Arts Editor, and had been editor for #500Words from 2012-16.
Award-winning actress and director, Anapela Polataivao has taken on the role of Director of Performing Arts at Nathan Homestead, a multi-use facility of Auckland Council in Manurewa, South Auckland. The outdoor summer season of Think of a Garden by American Sāmoan playwright, John Kneubuhl opens on January 25th, tickets available here.