Posts tagged ‘Tanu Gago’

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.


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.


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.

#RealTalk- safe space best practice (5)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

100% free, all welcome!

I volunteered to organise an art auction to help raise funds for my daughter Lanuola’s daycare centre, Le Malelega a le To’elau ECE, and it was beautiful and rewarding, and the funds raised blew our target out the water!

Fourteen friends and allies from my art world generously donated 23 works ranging from illustration, assemblage, photography and painting. The works were installed and shown for two weeks prior to auction night at Lime Espresso Bar & Eatery in Ōtāhuhu, South Auckland. Auction Night attracted a full house of punters, who were treated to a special menu of tasty treats created by chef Claudia Rakoia and her team.

Staff from Le Malelega a le To’elau finished work and came straight over to the venue to help welcome, register, wrap artwork, process payments and serve guests – they looked beautiful and did an amazing job. Earlier in the month, they had worked with the children at the Centre to paint the bidding paddles which were used on the night.

Our MC, my dear friend Yolande Ah Chong, kept our crowd entertained and inspired; she added so much value, and I reflected throughout the night what a phenomenal woman she is!

It was incredibly rewarding to see so much of this beautiful work being purchased by local artists, members of the South Auckland community, parents and keen supporters from the Pacific arts and culture ecosystem here in Manukau!

It was a privilege to do this project in many ways, especially to develop a working relationship with Lime Espresso Bar & Eatery, where I plan to produce some more exhibitions and interesting events over the coming months.

I’m super grateful to Konile Fusitua for his photography on the night – I’m a keen follower of this young creative! Check him out on Instagram here.


From “Tama’ita’i Pasifika Mao’i” (2014)
The 2014 Auckland Festival of Photography Annual Commission
Digital prints, 297 x 420 mm, framed

Born in Sāmoa and raised in Manukau City, Tanu Gago belongs to a large family with a diverse cultural background. Gago draws on his unique perspective and life in South Auckland to make art that directly engages with urban social issues including the fluid nature of ethnic and gender identities. In his 2010 solo exhibition You Love My Fresh at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Gago presented a projection constructed in three parts. The first work titled You Love My Fresh featured a composite of black and white urban photography emblazoned with bold yellow text. Phrases including ‘Your cultural experience makes me cynical, violent and resentful’ and ‘I feel redundant as a citizen of your first world’ bounced and shuddered across the screen, demanding attention. In his most recent body of work Avanoa o Tama, 2012 Gago presented a series of photographs of Polynesian men which destabilise preconceived notions of gender and sexuality. Gago challenges the social and cultural expectations surrounding the representation of gender by concentrating on the ambiguous and performative nature of masculinity and sexual identity.

Gago studied performing arts at Unitec Institute of Technology and received a Bachelor of Arts in performing arts with a major in writing and directing for screen.


Tanu Gago’s new work for Between Wind and Water is a follow-up from his 2010 three-channel video installation, YOU LOVE MY FRESH, a work developed for the Manukau Festival of Arts first shown at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts in Pakuranga, East Auckland.

Since 2011, Tanu has worked predominantly in photography but his kaupapa has always been to acknowledge, represent and celebrate the unique positions and shared experience of his communities in South Auckland. Making photographs that reclaim the gaze, his work and the projects that have emanated from his practice, give voice, presence and mana to people, places and spaces that are generally otherwise unrepresented in New Zealand mainstream media and art history.

Five years on, The Sound of the Ocean is the sequel to YOU LOVE MY FRESH. An uncomfortable historical reminder of embedded colonialism and media power, stereotypes and expectations that still linger in coded interactions with critics and academics, curators and haters.

Concerned with authorship and representation, past and present, this work remixes found footage from the Internet with Google imagery of Pacific peoples history in New Zealand. The Idea is to re-author the past decade of Pacific media representation, using my own Pacific lens and perspective to tell my own story.

This is the informal Pacific history according to me.

Here’s a taste:

The full three part video work has been created for Between Wind and Water; Tanu will discuss his work and ideas at an Artist Talk on Thursday 22 January at Enjoy Public Art Gallery – all welcome!


Artist Talk: Tanu Gago
5.30pm, Thursday 22 January

The residency of Between Wind and Water artists will take place from 10-24 January 2015; the exhibition will be on show until 31 January.


Enjoy Public Art Gallery is located on the First Floor, 147 Cuba Street, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

 Between Wind and Water has been produced with support from

BWAW sponsors1


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This is us! On Saturday 17 January from 12 – 6pm, the artists from the upcoming Between Wind and Water exhibition and residency will be at Wellington’s Positively Pasifika Festival at Waitangi Park!

Come down and meet the crew and pick up a copy of SOUTH publication featuring artist profiles, reviews, photo essays and page works by South Auckland’s finest Maori and Pacific artists. Limited edition PIMPI fans will be on sale, as well as Oceania Interrupted T-shirts… and keep an eye out for Oceania Interrupted who’ll be on a mission to raise awareness for West Papua in the capital!

The exhibition of new works by Tanu Gago, Leilani Kake and Luisa Tora opens at Enjoy Public Art Gallery on Saturday 10 January; the first event of the residency is on Wednesday 14 January – Pacific vs Art: A discussion on Curating Pacific Art all welcome!

 Between Wind and Water has been produced with support from

BWAW sponsors1

BWAW promo graphic v11

I’m excited to be producing my first arts project in Wellington next year! Entitled Between Wind and Water, the project includes an exhibition of new work by Tanu Gago, Leilani Kake and Luisa Tora, and a series of six events at Enjoy Public Art Gallery, where we’ll be collectively undertaking a two week residency from 10-24 January 2015.

Between Wind and Water is timed to coincide with the annual Positively Pasifika Festival in an effort to leverage off Wellington City Council’s civic celebration of Pacific cultures and communities. The project aims to attract and engage new Pacific audiences and symbolically centralise Pacific perspectives on contemporary art, interpretation and value.

An exhibition of new works by three South Auckland based artists provides the context for a series of talks, gatherings and activities offering audiences opportunities to discuss the artworks, themes, and wider context of making [and curating] art of and about Pacific experience in Aotearoa New Zealand.

BWAW Artists1

New media artist Tanu Gago has attracted significant attention for his staged photographs that reframe masculinity, sexual identity and cultural privilege. His video works are digital landscapes of new Polynesian pop culture, ‘ghetto narratives’ from 21st century South Auckland. Leilani Kake’s powerful video installations document family, ritual, cultural transmission and taboo. In a new and exploratory work, MALE – Māori or Polynesian, she begins to unpack stereotypes of criminality and the dichotomies of criminal/victim, brother/other. In Luisa Tora’s multidisciplinary practice, she employs visual codes and cultural references to interrogate historical and embedded power dynamics, value and values. Her installation, Naqalotu: Na qalo tu is informed by the origin story from her village in Kadavu (Fiji), symbolic relationships between people, histories, land and sea.

When one is between wind and water, they are said to be in a precarious or vulnerable position. Twenty years after Jim Vivieaere’s seminal show, Bottled Ocean, this exhibition project aims to stir the murky waters of contemporary Pacific art politics broaching issues of labels, positioning and expectations, diversity quotas, criticism and growth for Pacific art and artists in a post-identity era.

Public Programme Events

Pacific vs Art: A Discussion on Curating Pacific Art
Join writer-curators Ioana Gordon-Smith, Daniel Michal Satele and Between Wind and Water curator, Ema Tavola, in a spirited discussion facilitated by Sean Mallon, on Pacific art and the politics of engagement.
Time: 5.30pm
Date: Wednesday 14 January

Artist Talk: Leilani Kake
Exhibiting artist, Leilani Kake discusses the themes and inspiration for her new work, MALE – Māori or Polynesian, within the wider context of her video installation practice.
Time: 5.30pm
Date: Thursday 15 January

Oceania Interrupted: Empowering Collective Action – Meet & Greet
Meet members of Auckland-based collective, Oceania Interrupted, visiting Wellington to undertake the 8th of 15 Actions to raise awareness for West Papua.
Time: 5.30pm
Date: Friday 16 January

Naqalotu: Na qalo tu – A panel discussion on new work by Luisa Tora
Exhibiting artist, Luisa Tora will discuss her new work and themes along with guest speakers, Kaliopate Tavola ( on Fijian identity and totemic relationships, and Milena Palka (Marine Species Advocate, WWF) on shark populations and protection in the Pacific.
Time: 5.30pm
Date: Wednesday 21 January

Artist Talk: Tanu Gago
Exhibiting artist, Tanu Gago discuss the themes and inspiration for his new exploratory video work, The Sound of the Ocean.
Time: 5.30pm
Date: Thursday 22 January

BWAW Futures Forum
What does an ideal future look like for Pacific people in Aotearoa and Oceania? A series of quick-fire utopian dream talks from diverse Pacific perspectives, including Dr Teresia Teaiwa, Fuimaono Karl Pulotu-Endemann, Faith Wilson and more!
Time: 2pm
Date: Saturday 24 January
* This is the last event in the Between Wind and Water Summer Residency; closing drinks will follow this event.

Get involved

  • Draw a Suspect!
    Based on Leilani Kake’s new work, MALE – Māori or Polynesian, visitors are invited to create a hand-drawn suspect drawing from some interesting and familiar faces!
  • Between Wind and Water Publication
    Content for an exhibition publication will be generated throughout the residency; observations, photos, drawings and commentary from visitors will feature alongside extracts from dialogue events and extended artist statements. Meet and chat with the artists in the Gallery on most days between 10-24 January.


The residency of Between Wind and Water artists will take place from 10-24 January 2015; the exhibition will be on show until 31 January.


Enjoy Public Art Gallery is located on the First Floor, 147 Cuba Street, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

 Between Wind and Water has been produced with support from

BWAW sponsors1


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

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

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

Oceania Interrupted: Empowering Collective Action

More information:

Peter + William (2012) by Tanu Gago

Tanu Gago

Title: Peter + William
Date: 2012
Edition: Artist Proof
Series: Avanoa O Tama
Medium: Photographic Print on Archival Crystal Matte
Dimensions: 841x594mm

Artist Statement

As a Pacific Gay Male I have struggled over time to identify a clear distinction of Pacific masculinity I feel comfortable relating to. Searching for a cohesive sense of self and a recognizable sense of presence within the world we occupy, has lead me to this point in my artistic journey.

The Avanoa O Tama series presents a visual narrative that observes, critiques and articulates Pacific male identity in all its forms and with all its complexity, looking at the performance of our own unique perception of what it means to be a Pacific Male in the 21st century.


Born in Samoa and raised in Manukau City, Tanu Gago belongs to a large family with a diverse cultural background. Gago draws on his unique perspective and life in South Auckland to make art that directly engages with urban social issues including the fluid nature of ethnic and gender identities. Gago held his first solo exhibition, YOU LOVE MY FRESH at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts in 2010 and later developed his first photographic series, Jerry the Fa’afafine (In The Manner of a Samoan Man) for Mana Takatāpui: Taera Tāne curated by Reuben Friend for City Gallery Wellington in 2011. His follow-up series, Avanoa O Tama was developed for a solo exhibition at Fresh Gallery Otara in South Auckland and went on to be shown as part of Home AKL at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in 2012. Gago’s work features in private and public collections including Auckland Council, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and University of Auckland. He holds a Bachelor of Performing Arts majoring in Directing for Film & Television from Unitec.

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South Auckland new media artist Tanu Gago is giving an artist talk at 1.30pm, Friday 22 March at Te Matariki Clendon Library, Manurewa, South Auckland.

He will be discussing his recent work and interests in the representation of Samoan masculinity. Tanu is a trained film maker who has been making gallery-based video and photography work since 2009. Since his first solo exhibition, YOU LOVE MY FRESH (2010), he has gone on to show at City Gallery Wellington, Fresh Gallery Otara, Auckland Art Gallery and the Harris Gallery at the University of La Verne, California. His 2011 series, Jerry the Fa’afafine is on permanent display at Mangere Art Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku in South Auckland.

“Leo”, Jerry the Fa’afafine series (2010) by Tanu Gago with Vinesh Kumaran

I’m excited to see Tanu speaking about his work within a South Auckland context; I’m taking a group of students from MIT Faculty of Creative Arts and we’re all relieved we don’t have to go to Auckland for what promises to be a grounded and engaging discussion relevant to Pacific people and South Auckland.

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