Posts tagged ‘Mangere Arts Centre’

This review of the recent exhibition, Wantok at Māngere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku was originally written for ARTtalk (Issue 12), Fiji’s independent online art magazine.

As a curator, I view exhibitions in a few different ways. I think about the artwork and its medium, its politics and its placement. The artist – their positionality, their background and their message. The lighting even, the layout and feel of the Gallery. I think about the curator and their agenda, the experience of the audience, and often, the relationship of the exhibition themes to the exhibition’s site; who is this exhibition for?

Wantok is a group show of new work by nine Melanesian women artists, including the work of its curator. Produced for Māngere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku, Wantok is part of the Gallery’s commitment to celebrating the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the landmark moment Aotearoa New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to grant all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Māngere Arts Centre is a local government funded facility situated in the South Auckland suburb of Māngere, well known for its large, youthful and well-established Polynesian population.

The exhibition’s curator is Luisa Tora, a Fijian writer and visual artist who now calls Ōtāhuhu, South Auckland, home. She has invited artists to make new work around the theme of “decolonised views of beauty and mana through the lens of spirituality and symbolism associated with hair in Melanesian cultures”. The artists all live in Auckland, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and represent ancestral connections to Fiji, Tokelau, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Granada (Caribbean), the South Sea Islander community, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

In the case of the arts landscape of Aotearoa New Zealand, where Oceania is commonly viewed and understood through a Polynesian lens, this presentation of Melanesian diaspora experience requires context. This can be done effectively with well-crafted artwork labels and interpretive text, but this is absent from the show and the potential to diversify public perceptions about the wider Oceania region and the richness of Melanesian diaspora experience is frustratingly lost. Whilst much of the work in the exhibition is fighting hard to have space to be understood and interpreted, so many nuances of the artists’ approaches, thinking and themes are lost by not offering audiences ways for this work to be heard.

However, there is presence in the space. The presence of Melanesian women, of brown skin, and the clear control of those bodies and that representation in front, and behind the lens. And with four different video-based works in the two galleries, the exhibition is noisy! There are voices, conversations and laughing coming from the works of Torika Bolatagici and Salote Tawale, but a watery soundtrack emanating from a large-scale projected video work by Tufala Meri (the creative partnership of sisters, Molana and Reina Sutton) fills most of the exhibition’s soundscape.

Torika Bolatagici’s striking Tadrua Series (the space between) (2018) is six large scale portraits of strong, brown skinned women and girls with curly hair maintaining mesmerising connections with the camera. They are larger than life, a kind of feminine futuristic visual anthropology of Oceania. Whilst each image represents the same upper part of the body, each subject holds themselves differently; there are anthologies in the stories behind their eyes, equal parts strength and vulnerability in their postures, and pride and presence in their hair. In the accompanying video work, Tadra (to dream), the subjects are filmed resting on the acrylic kali, a kind of futuristic Fijian headrest made in collaboration with Lienors Torre and Shaun Bangay. The object itself sits unassumingly in the corner of the gallery on a plinth; set on a motion sensor, and with an internal sound device, occasionally women’s voices emanate from it, talking story about hair and rituals.

The stories and conversations from Bolatagici’s kali informed another collaborative aspect of this ambitious project in the form of a performative response by Ayeesha Ash and Emele Ugavule (members of the Sydney-based Black Birds collective). Marking the opening of the exhibition, Ash and Ugavule’s performance was meditative and graceful. They moved through the space, filling the room with Fijian vocal harmonies, amplifying the hair as an extension of the body and in its cutting, a significant act of bodily and emotional detachment. Their performance gave life to the space, connecting the artwork on the walls, to the audience who had come to greet it.

Jasmine Togo-Brisby’s large scale lightboxes depict photographic portraits of herself, her daughter and her mother, each with long curly hair adorned with a model sailing ship on top of their heads. Their gazes vary, and their garb is Victorian and formal. Without any context of the artist’s South Sea Islander genealogy and the history of the black birding slave trade in Melanesia, these works are perplexing, but confusing. Despite providing audiences with no context for this work and its themes, the light box is a beautiful medium that makes photography pop, commanding your attention.

Tufala Meri is sisters Molana and Reina Sutton. Their work includes five installations of domestic-like assemblages of photographs and objects, furniture and books, and a performative video work that is presented as a large scale full wall projection. In the video, the sisters initially appear to be very aware of the camera, holding poses with a large wooden bowl with characteristic Solomon Island shell inlay around the rim. They are standing next to a beautiful stream, on rocks, wearing similar neon patterned dresses and bare feet. The audio is watery, there is laughter and a woman’s voice. The sound of scrubbing, or rubbing can be heard, hoots and children’s giggles. It becomes clear that the video does not match the sound, but the two are related. The sisters gradually become more relaxed, and the shots tighten to capture closer views of their faces and actions. Suddenly, we see a photograph, another Melanesian woman – the sisters’ mother. The photograph is in the wooden bowl, it is carefully removed and placed on a rock, along with flowers and mementos.

Splashes and a sporadic deep rhythmic beat can be heard, almost like hearing the deep bass coming from someone’s headphones. The voices and laughter are joyful. We hear the presence and closeness of the water and the children… we hear a time and space, and we see another. The sisters play with each other’s hair, they laugh and splash and the light on the water running across boulders is almost golden. They use the wooden bowl to drench each other’s hair, which is thick and curly. The audio gets quiet, we see but we can’t hear. There is no more sound, just visuals, symbols – tattoos – body language, and land. The video ends with a final shot of the stream.

In conversation with Reina Sutton at the Wantok opening, I learned that the audio is from a home video of their late mother, shot in the Solomon Islands in 2008. It captures their mum at the river with her cousins, laughing, washing and the mesmerising beat that can be heard is water drumming. The work, Tufala Meri Blo Tiu lays the audio of their mother’s video over their own ‘home video’, filmed in Aotearoa New Zealand.

I spent time feeling mesmerised by this work and moved by the loving homage to their mother. I love that the scale of the video projection means their mother’s face is so large and present in the gallery, a beautiful and heartfelt dedication. Tufala Meri created a space for sitting, resting and being comfortable, which I appreciate; they effectively invite audiences to enjoy their work, be comforted and to listen and hear their message.

In a similar audio / video mash up, Salote Tawale’s video work, Polite Disguise (2018) overlays the sound of conversations between women about hair and othering with a series of performative Western beauty rituals. Tawale carries out the removal of her own hair via tweezers, scissors, hair clippers and adhesive strips. It is high definition, sometimes clumsy, and at points almost cringe-inducing and painful. In between her performative hair removal processes, the video intersperses popular hair product advertising jingles and YouTube-like vlogger cutaways. The work is shown on a monitor adorned with a large black and pink artificial flower garland that obstructs the corners of the screen, a confusingly unnecessary addition.

Dulcie Stewart’s series, Flora vitensis; drauniulu edition (2018) feels like the quietest work in the show. Stewart uses reproductions of botanical illustrations overlaid on the faces of Fijian women from ethnographic photographs, many of which exist in archives around the world with no biographic information about the subject. Stewart calls into question the visual ‘silencing’ of these women by rendering them nameless, disconnecting them from their past and their future. Interspersed with these photographic assemblages are a series of hand-drawn botanical illustrations of plants from Fiji, named Flora vitensis. In contrast to the ethnographic portraits, Flora vitensis are documented thoroughly, depicting their history and plant-based genealogy, uses and properties.

There’s a diplomacy about Stewart’s work, simultaneously thoughtful and confronting. She brings her interests in literature and archives, paper and records, together beautifully. She is both protector and promoter, reframing histories written about us but not for us.

The work I’m reluctant to mention, because curators being both author and artist in their own exhibitions is problematic, is a video portrait by Luisa Tora. In a topless self-portrait, Tora is superimposed against a galactic moving backdrop full of shooting stars, moons and planets. Her hair throbs outward from her head like a woolly halo, her stance stoic and defiant. Her gaze is not directly at the viewer and there’s an almost Mona Lisa like quality to the emotion or lack of emotion in her face. It’s a work that engages and titillates a lot of people because it’s ‘cool’, but for me feels like an unnecessary addition to the exhibition and something you might find if you type ‘God complex’ into a gif finder.

My friend Nigel Borell, a fellow curator, shared with me his appreciation of this show, noting that Auckland audiences appreciate the different framing of Pacific Islander experience. Whilst we are different, we have a shared imperialist histories and hair is a vessel for colonisation carrying ideas of shame and beauty, pride and presence. Nigel is right.

This exhibition could not be closer to my core as a Fijian woman curator living in South Auckland. Many of these artists are respected friends and peers, and their collective presence in the gallery is life-giving. I’ve spent hours in the space, because being close to these representations of Melanesian diaspora experience is affirming and empowering. Despite the lack of interpretive text and artwork labels, there is value in the presence of these works.

Curate is derived from the Latin term cūrā(re) meaning to care for, attend to. Luisa Tora cared enough to devise the concept of this exhibition, and Māngere Arts Centre offered space to bring it to life. The caring can’t stop at that; audiences are essential in enabling artwork to arrive, to be heard and to land. The dialogue between artwork and audience is what leaves the impression and changes culture. Hopefully the exhibition’s upcoming publication will deepen the impact of Wantok, but perhaps the most significant repercussion of this show is the connections forged between the artists and their efforts to be present in this space.


Featuring Torika Bolatagici with Blackbirds, Dulcie Stewart, Molana & Reina Sutton, Salote Tawale, Jasmine Togo-Brisby, Luisa Tora
Curated by Luisa Tora

21 April – 26 May 2018
Māngere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku, South Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand

South Auckland-based photographer Emily Mafile’o is currently crowdfunding to support the costs associated with staging an impressive large scale solo exhibition at Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku due to open next month. I’ve made a small donation and want to encourage everyone to consider supporting this great project. I got in touch with Emily to find out more…

Emily, I can’t believe we’ve known each other for 15 years! In that time we have both seen lots of change and growth… I’m still fighting for the cause but I’ve learned a lot along the way from the wars I waged in my fiery twenties! And you have consistently, and quietly, been documenting and producing series upon series of photographic work about the Tongan space, famili and cultural connectedness. Thinking back, it has been a real privilege to see your practice evolve. Have there been key events or shifts in your thinking that have inspired you to keep making? 

Malo ‘aupito. It has been a journey of ups and downs, but my love for documenting my people has kept me going. I believe a key event for me was when I finally became comfortable / secure with who I am, my cultural identity, and I have my photography to thank for that. It allowed me to find this space / va, place.

I also need to acknowledge my sister Vea. She is the person who has kept pushing me over the years, especially when I would question my practice or I didn’t think I had the right or ability to keep going.

It is important to me that we take responsibility in documenting our own culture, it is also important for me to keep fighting for photography in Contemporary Tongan Art.

On a more intimate thought and one that is a pure passion, the documentation of my people who are often not valued in being documented. My people behind the scenes or who are brushed under the fala. My people who choose to live outside of what it is considered to be the ‘norm’ in Tongan culture.

It’s the celebration of what it is to be a Tongan in 2017. The many different people that make up the Tongan culture.

I’m so excited to see the work in your upcoming exhibition, Tonga’s Strength-Hold Is Its Heart opening at Mangere Arts Centre next month. I worked with my Dad last year on an exhibition project that took me back to our village for the first time in 10 years and it was the most personal, most meaningful project I’ve ever produced. Like so many of your projects, I had the opportunity to work with my sister and involve our children and it really felt like my creative practice was playing a role in bringing the family together and creating an archive of our past, present, and future. What was it like working with your Dad on this project?

My Dad, Saia Mafile’o is someone in my life who I find interesting, frustrating, adore and at times totally crazy, but I love him dearly. Vea and I are extremely lucky with our famili and their support with our creative projects. My famili and Dad are all used to either Vea or I having a camera with us. This trip to Tonga with our father, which included all of my immediate siblings and our children was the first time in many years we had all stayed under one roof with him. It was extremely precious. It was also crazy as Vea was also filming her documentary Paper Run on Dad too. It was filled with lots of bittersweet moments for our famili.

It should also be pointed out that my Mother and my Step Dad Robert also go to great lengths to support us with our creative practices, we are extremely lucky.

A solo show is a lot of work – congratulations on harnessing the energy, inspiration and drive to take up the opportunity! We’ve talked about the sacrifices that artists often make to manifest their ideas, and I’ve seen you time and time again put in mad hours, invest so much personal resource and go above and beyond for your practice and those you’ve supported. How much has gone into this solo show?

Anything I work on consumes me. All my energy from the moment I decided to do the project goes into it. Writing up the project, the prep before going to Tonga, making the funds to get there and during our time in Tonga. Vea and I have always worked on several projects at a time when we are in Tonga, as it is a huge luxury, gift, opportunity and financial sacrifice to be there. So balancing out time amongst our projects and famili is extremely important. For me personally, it is also conserving my energy and making sure I use to the best of my ability due to my SLE. I have made / make personally, sacrifices over the years for my art practice in regards to how I live life, my poor son included.

The times I’ve seen Mangere Arts Centre filled with energy and life is when the community brings it; I know your exhibition will hold meaning and mana with so many local audiences here in South Auckland. What are your hopes for the show?

That it brings my Tongan people in the doors. That it makes my father, my famili and my people proud. That it shows an intimate form of contemporary Tongan photography, not the ‘normal’ documentation of an event. It is my father, my famili and my experiences at Toloa.

Thank you Emily, for your time and your work. This project holds so much meaning and mana and I want to encourage as many people as possible to consider donating to your crowdfunding campaign to support your printing costs!

Malo ‘aupito, ‘aupito Ema.

Donating is easy on the Boosted platform and every dollar counts! Check it out here…

Click here to donate!

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

The first three exhibitions I’ve visited this year have got me thinking…

Waikato-based visual artist Margaret Aull (Te Rarawa, Tūwharetoa, Fiji) presented her Master of Fine Arts graduating work this week at Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design in central Auckland (read more here). Cook Islands choreographer Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French has curated an impressive exhibition at Fresh Gallery Otara, and down the road at Mangere Arts Centre, there’s a long summer exhibition called Agiagiā, which is a Samoan title for an exhibition on the late Pākehā artist, Len Lye.

In the way that so many conversations in the diaspora about Pacific art and artists reflect and respond to colonisation, these exhibitions highlight three notions of cultural exchange. The artists critique and respond to the interface of coloniser and colonised, where cultures blend and bleed into each other. Consciously and unconsciously, the exhibitions present commentary on reciprocity, loss, protocol and power.

The entrance to Margaret Aull’s installation, entitled Rules of Engagement, was symbolically lowered. It required audiences to stoop upon entering the space, responding to the Fijian protocol of lowering one’s head as a gesture of respect and deference when in the presence of a chief (traditionally), entering a room or when passing in front of seated people. The installation is the outcome of Aull’s investigations into the notion of tapu, something she describes as “an indigenous liminal space… [existing] by way of knowing and doing, and activated when acknowledging the unknown.” (Rules of Engagement Through The Notion of Tapu catalogue, © Margaret Aull)

The audience experience of this work is an awkward maneuvering around large-scale objects, precarious mirrors and two slightly manic eyeballs. The installation is loaded with Maori mythological symbolism and rooted in Aull’s personal enquiry informed by her dual heritage.

Choreographer and Cook Islands tamure dancer, Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French has curated an exhibition entitled, The Pacific Muse: The Art, The Dance. It consists of documentation of her ongoing performance piece, The Pacific Muse, from its original presentation during the 2011 Pacific Dance New Zealand Choreographic Lab to Auckland’s 2013 Tempo Dance Festival. From its most recent presentation, a series of stunning staged photographs were produced and are presented as relatively large-scale prints.

Central to the exhibition is the display of the costumes designed and constructed by Valentina Serebrennikova in consultation with French. They are hauntingly beautiful and feel worn, as in imbued with the dance and French’s ongoing research into  Pacific female body politics, stereotypes and the legacy and effects of colonisation.

Mangere Arts Centre’s summer exhibition, Len Lye: Agiagiā runs for three long months, an exhibition timeframe better suited to large public institutions and museums rather than community galleries. Len Lye was a New Zealand artist known for his innovative experimental film practice; co-curator, James Pinker states in the exhibition’s media release that “Lye was one of the first Pākehā artists to appreciate indigenous cultures around the world.” *side-eye*

The galleries are painted black. The exhibition consists of framed drawings, kinetic sculptures and videos. Whilst there is a lengthy introductory wall text, the exhibition lacks any interpretive text and moving throughout the space, my guest and I felt detached and emotionless at the lack of information and assumed importance of the works. Whilst a museum has a duty to inform and educate its customers, galleries seem to have less accountability for an exhibition’s transmission, a problematic dynamic in the case of a ratepayer-funded community gallery.

Len Lye’s notoriety as an artist is not common knowledge even amongst arts educated audiences; the value of his work is not mutually translatable. He used Pacific imagery in some of his work, and the exhibition has a Samoan title, but the relevance to the Pacific, and potentially Pacific Island audiences, is superficial. Mangere Arts Centre’s audiences are diverse but I find it frustrating that a publicly funded community gallery clearly prioritises for industry and academic audiences before considering the experience and expectations of its local community.

Whilst attendance numbers and mainstream media reviews will translate to bureaucratic boxes ticked, measuring engagement rarely reflects the reality of disengagement. Mangere Arts Centre doesn’t have a suggestions box and there are rarely opportunities to provide feedback on their programming. I’m not alone in wishing that such a well-equipped facility and resource could better serve the community and context it sits within; disappointment and frustration is evident at a community level, but rather than complain, people just don’t go back.

So, 2014 – here we go, here’s to another year of art projects and real talk!




I’m looking forward to local photojournalist Qiane Matata-Sipu‘s first solo exhibition opening this week at Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku in South Auckland. The exhibition honours Ihumatao, a semi-rural community situated on the edge of the Manukau harbour in between Auckland Airport’s industrial belt and the densely populated suburb of Mangere. Qiane has a vibrant photographic practice and an impressive portfolio of published writing; she is a busy creative entrepreneur working with a strong basis of love and respect for Māori and Pacific communities.

This exhibition is refreshing to see at Mangere Arts Centre, a locally funded arts facility that seems to struggle to deliver relevant visual arts programming. In what feels like a naturally aligned programming decision, I hope this exhibition signals a shift in awareness for the role of locally funded arts facilities in serving and responding to the communities they sit within.

Click here to find out more about Qiane Matata-Sipu

I ❤ Entrepreneurial Pacific Artists

In the past two months I’ve come across a range of art products produced by entrepreneurial Pacific artists – something I love to see! Imagine if entrepreneurship and small business skills were taught at art schools! I love supporting artists who have a head for money-making!

Magnets, bags, lavalava and t-shirts… here is a small selection of some Pacific creative practitioners hustling in Auckland today!


FAF SWAG is an online LGBT community honouring Samoan fa’afafine identity. FAF SWAG t-shirts and lavalava are designed by Samoan new media artist, Tanu Gago.

Tabana by Design

Tabana by Design is a collaboration between Martine Stowers and her father. They have collectively produced a range of homeware, totes and make-up bags. They are GORGEOUS!

The Good, The Bad

The Good, The Bad is the brand of Samoan artist Gary Silipa. I’ve been a fan of his work for a while and love his TGTB Symbol t-shirt.

Tepora Malo

Tepora Malo is currently completing a Bachelor of Creative Arts at Manukau Institute of Technology. In 2012, she printed a series of lavalava and sold them at Otara Market. I came across them and loved them straight away! She now stocks Mangere Arts Centre shop located at the corner of Bader Drive and Orly Ave, Mangere, South Auckland.

Magnets by Molly Rangiwai McHale

Molly Rangiwai McHale produced a series of magnets featuring illustrations for Auckland’s recent Big Gay Out festival.

I’ve been invited to curate a small-scale exhibition about the South Auckland entertainment company, Kila Kokonut Krew (KKK) at Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku. The exhibition acknowledges the 10th anniversary of KKK and coincides with the company’s 2012 presentation of Taro King – the first play they produced in 2002.

This is the second exhibition I’ve curated about Kila Kokonut Krew; the first one, From The Pacific We Rise, took place at Fresh Gallery Otara in 2008. At the time, the company was multifaceted with the music (Nafanua Records), T-shirts (Phat Islanders), the theatre and KTV – Kila Kokonut Krew Television. Fresh Gallery Otara had no operational budget at this time; the exhibition came together with limited resources but successfully depicted the breadth, depth and energy of KKK.

Both KKK and I have come a long way since that first show. Kila Kokonut Krew is now recognised as New Zealand’s leading professional Pacific theatre company and receives regular support from Creative New Zealand. I went on to produce another 50 or so exhibitions in and around South Auckland. Mangere Arts Centre was opened in 2010 and its beautiful new theatre has become a home for KKK and an ideal space to celebrate this landmark anniversary.

The exhibition I’ve developed this year is based on a Pacific Island lounge. I’ve been inspired by an early photographic series by Māori / Niuean / Samoan visual artist, Janet Lilo called Aunty Tina’s House. I’ve also drawn on the experience of being an associate curator for Home AKL at Auckland Art Gallery, an exhibition that feels so far from my own sense of home.
I wanted to create a domestic environment in the Mangere Arts Centre foyer that would invite audiences to sit and relax… to feel at home. Seeing Kila Kokonut Krew’s humour and South Aucklandisms on mainstream stages in central Auckland has always reinforced my connections to the Southside. I wanted to create an exhibition that felt like KKK’s home – a space of comfort and reflection, Pacific cultural pride and markers of growth and development, people and achievement.

The Kila Kokonut Krew 10th Anniversary season including Taro King and the Celebrating 10 years of Kila Kokonut Krew exhibition take place at Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku from 15-24 August 2012.

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