Posts tagged ‘South Auckland’

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.

Wantok

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

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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

Photo credit: Jermaine Dean

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

Photo credit: Hōhua Ropate Kurene

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
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
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
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
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.

Clinton Hewitt
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
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.

Anapela Polataivao
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.

2018: it’s on like donkey kong

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Manuha’apai Vaeatangitau is the full name is the artist commonly known as Manu Vaea. The 19 year old Tongan visual artist and poet has responded to the themes of gentrification and cultural transformation in the PIMPI Winter Series exhibition, #CHANGES with a series of rose-tinted, hand-drawn illustrations about the erasure of memory and the emotional detachment of displacement.

Manu, your four hand-drawn works in #CHANGES feel so personal; they give us such intimate insights into family spaces. What was it like to draw, in painstaking detail, these memories?

Upon drawing these, I felt sadness. That’s just it, an overwhelming sadness. I had decided upon the exclusion of a large part of my family’s facial features and some figures completely so that it would feel a bit emotionally off-kilter/detached because I guess that’s what gentrification does on that level. How are you supposed to feel about a place you once came from, that doesn’t technically exist anymore?

Your work makes a vital contribution to this exhibition because it demonstrates what the ‘end game’ of gentrification can look like. What was the experience like for your family to be displaced and relocate to another community, presumably much further away from the environment they were familiar with?

My family weren’t and still aren’t so interested in the politics of displacement and gentrification; I attribute this to it being something they must’ve become accustomed to, living in New Zealand. So, I guess that’s why, as I looked through the old photographs from Mad Ave and further began to illustrate them, I felt so upset.

My family had actually moved from Mad Ave shortly before the process of gentrification had begun, but it’s that thing of being able to locate yourself within a time and place. A whole community of families had existed there, a culture had developed there and these are the things that you don’t see in those articles dogging Mad Ave or honestly any other area with a low socio-economic decile.

Gentrification happened to everyone, so in turn, everyone one was displaced together and recreating these communities wasn’t too hard. I think the physical erasure of these low socio-economic areas that both my family and many others grew up in, as I mentioned before, leaves a lot of people really emotionally detached. I think it also slowly but definitely eventuates in the erasure of memories.

I became aware of your practice through my lifelong fangirling of all things FAFSWAG, what does it mean to be part of this collective, and how does that influence or empower your individual practice?

Ah! FAFSWAG. It means a lot to be a part of the collective. The members of this collective were the first to actually want to sit down with me and discuss things I had always wanted to discuss. FAFSWAG has given me huge opportunities to create/perform/be and I’m mad thankful. In regards to my individual practice, I’ve made sure not to really expect too much and feel pressured to overachieve because I need to take care of my spirit/body/mind first and well, I’m only 19. Lol. FAFSWAG, however, is one of my greatest support systems and I feel really indebted towards a lot of the members.

I know you’re currently studying visual arts at AUT University, having moved from studying animation, what are you loving about making art without a kind of commercial orientation?

Yes, so I’m currently sitting a Bachelor of Visual Arts and what I love about the lack of any kind of commercial orientation is that I’m creating things that I feel wholly responsible for. In saying that, it also means that I take full responsibility if my work looks like shit. I think that even that is good for growth though. I also just appreciate that I get to speak on whatever I want, whenever I want and I am always in complete control of what I share with others. Trying to head down a more traditionally lucrative career path (going to Media Design School) was honestly a really bad mistake which manifested itself in many ways physically, mentally and spiritually.

It’s so good to have those things in check at such a young age. Manu, what are your art dreams… what is the ideal art life for you?

Hmm, art dreams. I haven’t really thought about it properly. Its all just been go from the jump so I’ve taken everything as it came. I think really what I want is to travel, create outside of my comfort zone and ultimately return to Tonga.

Check out Manu Vaea’s new work in #CHANGES until Friday 28 July at Lime Espresso Bar & Eatery, 507 Great South Road, South Auckland.

The 2017 PIMPI Winter Series has been produced with support from the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board.
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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.

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The third exhibition in the 2017 PIMPI Winter Series takes its name from the title track of Sade’s concept album Lovers Rock.

For curator, Ema Tavola, the lyrics and melodies of the album formed the soundtrack of a period of awakening, of flipping the script and transforming youthful anxiety and torturous and media-saturated negative self-image to powerful, self empowerment. It was played on CDs, contemplated on worn mattresses, in humid afternoons and rainstorms; it was the music that fuelled the decision to leave home and embark on the adventure of moving to Aotearoa.

This exhibition, Lovers Rock, is an homage to radical, transformative self love.

It is a tragedy that the act of truly loving the bodies we inhabit is a form of rebellion, a political position, a choice to consciously reject the media messaging that attaches worth and value to prescribed and narrow ideals that often don’t match our physical and environmental realities.

As pathways and platforms to perform and engage in the act of self love, artists explore, reclaim and unpack the politics of the gaze, unapologetically centralising the brown body, in the frame, in the centre; creating visibility where it didn’t exist. Lovers Rock taps into the necessary re-authoring of the narrative of brown bodies, unburdening the language of our curves and textures, our rhythms and shade.

Practices in Self-Love is the exhibition’s public programme event. In a unique Pecha Kucha inspired sharing format, the exhibition’s artists will share personal approaches for channeling self love and practicing self care. All welcome!

Image credit: Invisible series (2016) by Julia Mage’au Gray

Lovers Rock

Featuring: Melissa Cole, Julia Mage’au Gray, Pati Solomona Tyrell, Serene Timeteo, Jacinda Pini
Opening: 6pm, Saturday 29 July
Practices in Self-Love: 2pm, Saturday 5 August
Exhibition Dates: 31 July – 19 August 2017

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Courtesy of Konile Fusitua

Ōtāhuhu is changing before our eyes. Auckland’s housing crisis has shifted the appeal of our neighbourhoods and new home buyers, residents and investment are transforming the demography and commercial landscape of parts of South Auckland at an alarming rate. The second exhibition of the 2017 PIMPI Winter Series confronts the inevitable cultural transformation of communities and spaces undergoing gentrification in South Auckland. Featuring local and international artists, #CHANGES presents reflections on social histories, memory and place-making, intercultural navigation and the uncomfortable relationship between gentrification and neo-colonialism.

Courtesy of Manu Vaea

In a new series of illustrations, Manu Vaea reflects on time spent growing up on “Mad Ave” in Glen Innes, an infamous neighbourhood once dubbed the “street from hell”. The area underwent redevelopment in the early 2000s and has since been re-populated and re-branded as Mount Taylor Drive, Glendowie. Vaea’s illustrations on rose-tinted metallic paper are drawn from family photographs taken between 1989-1991; they represent the comfort and familiarity of home, and the intangible memories of a place that has been erased.

Qiane Matata-Sipu is an Ihumātao-based photographer and storyteller. Her peoples’ ancestral lands have been, and continue to be, ravaged by waves of rapid change from settler confiscation and occupation to present-day rural re-zoning, the construction of massive industrial factories and a government endorsed Special Housing Area development for 500 high density homes. In a new series called Waitohu, meaning ‘to mark, signify, indicate; a symbol, brand or sign’, Matata-Sipu juxtaposes the language of signage seen in the Ihumātao area with images of land, skies and children, the inheritors of this shifting landscape. In stark and confronting layers, the fit and misfit of these elements expose the crassness of capitalist commercialisation against the mana of the whenua.

Local artist Sean Kerrigan has an aesthetic, craftsmanship and philosophical grounding that seems harder to come by in the digital age of art making. His work is the product of time and energy spent understanding, negotiating and shaping materials. His hand-scratched bedhead is emblazoned with a South Auckland alpha-mutt, a common mix derived from Pitty x Staffy (Pitbull and Staffordshire Terrier breeds), a symbol that creates an uneasily close reference to Mongrel Mob insignia. Kerrigan grew up in and around Māngere and Ōtāhuhu and has an emotional nostalgia to the way the environment shaped him, as a white man, growing up in brown neighbourhoods. His work references a mash-up of the famed JFK quote, Think not what the ghetto can do for you but FEEL, with your heart, what you can be of the ghetto. 

Courtesy of Lisiate Wolfgramm

In a series of infographic posters, Utah-based graphic artist, Lisiate Wolfgramm reflects the global footprints of the Pacific diaspora where contrasting attitudes, tensions and skillsets emerge and evolve around food and celebration, space and distance, names and pronunciation. Now globally connected via social media, the Pacific diaspora experience is documented, discussed and shared online across every social platform. Wolfgramm’s cheeky instructional diagrams serve to entertain familiar audiences, and create an honest and informative interface with others. 

In only her second exhibition, Ōtāhuhu College student Lilia Rakoia uses the architectural lines and features of Ōtāhuhu’s changing landscape in two new paintings. The landmarks and place-making of the past and future collide in a kind of Southside futurism, an exciting beginning for a young artist’s creative practice.

As the youngest artist in the exhibition, Konile Fusitua is separating his creative expression from the digital to the tangible realm for the first time. In daily postings across all his social platforms, Fusitua is an avid content creator, making portraits and compositions depicting the world he inhabits with sister Ofa Moana, the music and media they consume, and observations of South Auckland from fresh eyes having migrated to New Zealand in 2016 from Portland, Oregon, USA. Over his three hand-held-device-scaled works, Fusitua presents three accompanying garlands that symbolically bring the digital and natural worlds together in beauty and symmetry, balance and ephemerality.

Defying curatorial convention, #CHANGES curator Ema Tavola includes a concept artwork for the exhibition and its themes in the form of a paper collage entitled, Why Lady. In preparing to pursue a research residency at the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Canterbury, Tavola endeavours to explore the role of making, recording and idea visualisation in the act of curating. Why Lady combines references to site specificity, dominant culture / cultural dominance, and the body politics and fashioning of brown bodies and white bodies.

This exhibition aims to probe gentrification and its process of displacement and manifestation of economic privilege. In the words of locals, Ōtāhuhu is changes. There is undeniable value in the process of historically segregated communities being unnaturally thrust together, learning to live, somewhat awkwardly, side-by-side. But as the momentum of change increases, the inevitable transformation of our communities becomes less about the benefits of having better access to good coffee, but the quietly shifting dynamics of power and numbers, control and influence, agency, belonging and entitlement.

This exhibition has been produced with support from the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board.

#CHANGES

Featuring: Konile Fusitua, Sean Kerrigan, Qiane Matata-Sipu, Lilia Rakoia, Ema Tavola, Manu Vaea, Lisiate Wolfgramm
Curated by Ema Tavola

Opening: 6pm, Saturday 8 July
Panel Discussion: #RealTalk – Gentrifying South Auckland: 2pm, Saturday 22 July
Exhibition Dates: 10 – 28 July 2017

Lime Espresso Bar & Eatery is located at 507 Great South Road, Ōtāhuhu, South Auckland. Opening hours: Monday – Friday, 7am – 3pm, Saturday 9am – 2pm.

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Hello, my name is Vinesh is a solo exhibition by Māngere-based photographer, Vinesh Kumaran. Starting in 2014, Vinesh challenged himself to make a portrait a day for 365 days. The project became an obsession that led him to explore and engage with his landscape and communities in new ways every day. His approach would always start with, Hello… my name is Vinesh.

In the first exhibition of the 2017 PIMPI Winter Series, Vinesh presents 74 portraits from the series, along with the stories and insights shared between photographer and subject at the moment the photograph was made. Using Instagram as a platform to upload and share the portraits, Vinesh connected the project and the people to another audience, who readily added to the narrative of each photograph with commentary and tags.

Although Vinesh has exhibited widely in New Zealand, and also in Fiji, Hello, my name is Vinesh is the artist’s first solo exhibition.

About the artist

Vinesh Kumaran was born and raised in the small rural town of Ba, Fiji and the South Auckland suburb of Mangere, New Zealand.

Pursuing a Bachelor of Visual Arts enabled his 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.

Four years at art school gave Vinesh a strong technical and critical perspective on the discipline of photography as well as a deep respect for portraiture. After graduating, he dove enthusiastically into the world of commercial photography learning with every opportunity. Committed and determined, Vinesh has established an impressive reputation and worked on notable national and international campaigns in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

Vinesh has established long term relationships within the arts and cultural sectors in South Auckland, which have enabled a number of opportunities to explore and develop his portraiture portfolio. From promotional to editorial and gallery-based photography, Vinesh treats portraiture as a collaboration ultimately capturing a moment of connection.

Check out more work by Vinesh Kumaran here.

Hello, my name is Vinesh

OPENING: 6pm, Saturday 17 June
Hello, my name is… // Speed Networking Night: 6pm, Saturday 1 July
EXHIBITION: 19 June – 7 July 

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Photo by Raymond Sagapolutele

Photo by Raymond Sagapolutele

We sat on a Fijian mat, beneath a Tongan barkcloth, opposite a Cook Islands Tīvaevae. I invited three respected peers, friends and colleagues into a safe space to discuss the notion of safe space, within the arts and cultural sectors that we work within here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Photo by Raymond Sagapolutele

Photo by Raymond Sagapolutele

#RealTalk: Safe Space / Best Practice was an event developed upon invitation from ARTSPACE, a Creative New Zealand funded contemporary art gallery in central Auckland. The event sat within the Amor Mundi conversation series, ours was the first event to take place outside of the Karangahape Road / central Auckland environment. In an opening address, outgoing curatorial Director Misal Adnan Yıldız spoke about the purpose of our discussion in a wider arts community context, referencing the exhibition, U Can’t Touch This, part of the 2015 PIMPI Winter Series, as an example of dislocating and relocating art and exhibition making.

The old Ōtāhuhu Library was the ideal location for this talanoa. Now used as a mixed use community facility, the building is currently leased to the Ōtāhuhu Māngere Youth Group who coordinate free programmes from vogue workshops to homework sessions and music classes. It is safe space embodied.

Photo by Ema Tavola

Photo by Ema Tavola

After a round of introductions from the audience, the conversation started with a knowing of the presence in the room. The panel talked story, sharing experiences and insights of safety and conflict, risk, passion and frustration. The discussion went from: advocating in museums and symposia around the world, to the simple gesture of inviting people to step inside at community galleries in South Auckland, to personal safety, and the real, physical, harmful behaviour which affects the lives of Pacific Rainbow communities every day.

Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai spoke of tā-vā theory of reality in relation to the conflict, chaos and harmony in the space between real talk / unreal talk, safe space and unsafe space, best practice and worst practice.

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Photo by Raymond Sagapolutele

In conversation with the audience, the panel unpacked the meaning and mana of tears, of emotional intelligence and the problematic translation of emotional responsiveness to weakness and the problematic dichotomies of reason versus emotion, thinking versus feeling.

On tokenism and the risks of audience participation as superficial social experimentation, on the recognition of Tangata Whenua at the core of any discussion of diversity, and the safety provided by peers and those who stand side-by-side in times of conflict, and order.

There was so much value in this discussion. It was rich and insightful, poetic and emotional.

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Photo by Raymond Sagapolutele

Many thanks to Caroline and the team at Ōtāhuhu Māngere Youth Group and to Christine O’Brien from Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board for helping to get things moving! Thank you to ARTSPACE and the vision, courage and appetite of Misal Adnan Yıldız, thank you for creating the platform for this kaupapa, I really hope the important work you have done will continue and evolve, and we all wish you so much good luck for the next chapter.

Photo by Ema Tavola

Photo by Ema Tavola

Thank you to the panel, Tanu Gago, Leilani Kake and Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai – thank you for always bringing A-game, doing what you do, always advocating hard, representing our broader communities with passion, and changing the game in small ways every day.

Thank you to Raymond Sagapolutele for recording the event beautifully, as always, thank you for your generosity of presence. And thank you to Claudia Rakoia of Lime Espresso Bar & Eatery, who nourished us heartily with a beautiful spread.

Vinaka vakalevu.

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#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!

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The impressive and relatively new campus of Manukau Institute of Technology houses two stunning commissioned large scale Pacific artworks (below) which curator, Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai notes, “The form and content of these two works are unique and cannot be found anywhere in Aotearoa NZ, the wider Moana Pacific or in the world. This is a result of the approach and process involved, the materials used, and the special collaboration of older artists and collectives practicing and innovating art forms from the homeland in Aotearoa, and younger Aotearoa born artists, whose practices are informed by influences and mediums they encounter living and growing up here. The basic intention of this approach was to do away with the problematic distinction of ‘traditional’ or ‘heritage’ and ‘contemporary’ artists and arts, when they are in reality coexistent and continuous in circular and inclusive ways.”

The work on the left (below) is called “Ngatu Tupenu Tā’uli'” (Black-marked cloth) and was produced as a collaboration between Benjamin Work and Fauniteni ‘o e Mo’ui, a central Auckland-based Tongan Women fine arts collective from the Dominion Road Tongan Methodist Church. The work on the right is called “Three Kete“; the design was created by Leilani Kake and produced with the knowledge and fine hands of the Cook Islands Mamas led by Master Tīvaevae artist Mary Ama and supported by Annabelle Wichman Hosking, Tukua Turia, Tutana Tuaeu, Mata Te Pai and the Pacifica Mamas of the Pacifica Arts Centre, West Auckland.

The Manukau Tertiary Centre is also currently hosting the small but perfectly formed, jam-packed Taku Tamaki Auckland Stories exhibition, developed by Auckland War Memorial Museum. It was a privilege to be an advisor on this project; it is the most comprehensive South Auckland 101 experience you can get and I take all visitors there as the first port of call. (I spoke at the opening and my speech is here)

I’m also super proud to have work that I’ve been part of on display in this building: six large scale photographic portraits made by Vinesh Kumaran and I at the ASB Polyfest in 2015 are on permanent display on the exterior facing wall of the theatre.

I spent four years studying at MIT completing my undergraduate degree, three semesters teaching there and many, many hours in and around the campuses in Ōtara and Manukau. I’m a big fan of the work the Institute has done to increase Pacific achievement in tertiary education, and this new campus is quietly becoming a hive of conscious Pacific art activity!

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