Posts tagged ‘PIMPImanifesto’

I’m working with an awe-inspiring group of women on a curatorial project for the 4th International Biennale of Casablanca. A successful grant application from Creative New Zealand was announced earlier this month, and we came together this past weekend to talanoa in real time.

The working title of the project is A Maternal Lens, it will include new work by Margaret Aull, Leilani Kake, Julia Mage’au Gray, Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai and Vaimaila Urale. The exhibition project will open in Casablanca, Morocco in late October.

I’ll write more in the coming months about this project – it’s hearty. I just wanted to share that this weekend’s wānanga in Whaingaroa was filled with the sounds of the ocean and bush, the energy of an exquisite sunset and life-giving sunrise; it was restorative and invigorating. We missed Julia, who was in Australia making marks, but I’m feeling so positive about this project and its unique approach that privileges the roles of mothers / parents (M is for Mothers in the PIMPImanifesto).

I can’t wait to see it come together.

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 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.


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.



I chose to drive to Ōtautahi Christchurch from Manukau, South Auckland to feel the distance between my frame of reference and this place.

When I arrived to Aotearoa in 1998 to go to Wellington High School, the first evening news bulletin I watched told of a spate of violent attacks by white supremacists on non-white international students living in Christchurch. This year, almost 20 years later, was the first time I’ve visited Christchurch, and reflected on how much that initial story of racism and violence shaped and framed the way I have perceived, and feared, this region.

I’ve lived in South Auckland for 15 years now. Ironically, it’s an area which carries the burden of similar media-driven negative perceptions. For me, the place I’ve called home for most of my adult life, is safe space: culturally rich, effortlessly diverse, where creative expression thrives. I’ve been able to work as a curator of Pacific art from my South Auckland base since 2004. My opportunity to come to Christchurch for the 2017 Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies Pacific Arts Residency has been on the basis of writing about that practice; I intend to research and write a manifesto of curating Pacific art, facilitate some good talks and do some making and mapping too.



I drove from Manukau to Paekākāriki by myself. I have a very limited range on my car stereo so tuned into whatever was going. The discussions on talkback radio were upsetting, and I quickly chose silence. Metiria Turei’s admission of benefit fraud had inspired passionate reactions from callers, some spitting the terms ‘mowrie separatist’ and ‘self serving activist’ with such venom, I felt triggered. I spent time reflecting on the majestic landscapes I was driving through, thinking about colonisation and what Tangata Whenua have lost, and gained, as New Zealanders. I thought about how important environmental protection is to me, and social justice, and thought about Metiria, a lot.

I arrived at my Aunty’s house in Paekākāriki just in time for a perfect home cooked meal, shared with my cousin and niece. Paekākāriki is more and more feeling like a home away from home. When I did the 2015 Summer Residency at Enjoy Public Art Gallery, the base for me and my daughter, and the artists and their partners, was my cousin Anton’s house in Paekākāriki (it was the hardest, and most rewarding collective effort). Stopping off in Paekākāriki en route to Ōtautahi Christchurch for another residency mission felt symbolic and affirming.



Cousin Anton took over driving for day two of the mission. We caught an 8am ferry from Wellington and the harbour was glassy and the rising sun was #nofilter stunning. It was a good morning; fresh coffee, crisp air, crossing the waters to Te Waipounamu.

Whilst thinking of the Beast of Blenheim got me a bit spooked in Blenheim, we went on to encounter what felt like a miles upon miles upon MILES of stop-and-go roadworks. The road to Ōtautahi Christchurch, via Murchison, was lined with cones, and notably ‘manned’ by a lot of women. The views were at time exquisite, and the distinct lack of humans started to feel very apparent. We drove through the snowcapped mountains of the Lewis Pass, and alongside dramatic river beds that all looked like Speights ads were filmed there.

After hours of traversing relatively human-less picture postcard landscapes, the land started to get more controlled… irrigated… politicised. Urbanity intensified as we approached the country’s second biggest city… suddenly we were surrounded by lights, contemplating sculpture and an unusual, enormous bridge structure.

Two massive days of driving, hundreds of kilometers, a lot of coffee, mountains, weather systems, two sunrises and two sunsets… a bit of ‘would you rather’ madness, and lots of insights from my cousin Anton, always down for an adventure. Thank you, cuzzie.

Cuzzie Driver

So here goes… three months in Ōtautahi Christchurch!

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