Posts tagged ‘Tonga’

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.

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Benjamin Work

Ikai Ha To’a ‘E Tu’u Tokotaha (No Man Is An Island) (2016)
500mm (Diameter), Acrylic on Cradled Wood Panel

Benjamin Work is a South Auckland-based artist of Tongan (Tu’anekivale, Vava’u) and Scottish heritage. He has a solid grounding in aerosol painting with his initial creative output centred around sub/ pop-cultural influences that emerged from North America in the 1970s – 1980s. Since then, Benjamin’s bold visual language references historical narratives, design elements and semiotics particular to Tongan culture. His diverse practice reflects the ‘here and now’. His work engages with the current cultural, political and social context of Auckland, Aotearoa and with contemporary local and international art and design contexts. Work has exhibited in a number of group and solo exhibitions including:

For King and Country, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga, Cook Islands; The Glorious Children of te Tumu – Salisbury International Arts Festival, England; For King and Country – Ma’ae Tu’i o e Fonua, Māngere Arts Centre; Post-Graffiti Pacific, aMBUSH Gallery, Sydney; Toutouta, Olivia Laita Gallery, Auckland; I See Red I See Red I See Red, Fresh Gallery, Auckland; If These Walls Could Talk, Imperial Lane, Auckland and TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland; Louder – The Serigraph Pop-Up Exhibition, Studio 40, Auckland; Primary Flight: Art Basel, Miami, USA.

More info:




Siufaga Catholic Church / Ladies in Church, April 2016
Digital prints, 297x420mm, framed


Ha’apai Church (2013)
Digital prints, 297x420mm, framed

Vea Mafile’o (Tongan/Maori/Scottish/English) has produced installation art and exhibited extensively throughout the Pacific. She is a  director on television productions such as “Fresh”, “Tagata Pasifika” and the web series “coconettv”. She produced and directed short films, which includes award winning `Aho`eitu at the Sydney Film festival 2015 and selections for Malorilands and the Hawaiian International film festival 2016. She had art directed many short films in including 6 x short films which were Peter Jackson wild card winners for the 48hour competition and Feature film ‘Finding Honk’. In 2011 Vea was nominated for the prestigious International Signature Art Prize (SAPB) .Her work Monomono2.0 was exhibited at the prestigious Venice Biennale 2015.


Vineyard (2015) by Faafeu Kapeneta

Faafeu Kapeneta presents three striking new photographic works in That’s not Pacific Art, the second exhibition in the PIMPI Winter Series opening Thursday 6 August at Big Willie Legacy Barber & Tattoo Studio. I asked him about that Tongan vineyard life…

Thank you for being the only South Islander in the PIMPI Winter Series! How did you end up living and working in Marlborough and how long have you been there?

Thank you Ema for the opportunity. Long story short, my family moved to Marlborough after visiting relatives for Christmas in 2005. We have been living here for nearly 10 years now after moving away from Wellington. I’ve  been here for about a year and a half now.

The Marlborough region conjures up images of quintessential New Zealand landscapes and vineyards… the stuff of tourism billboards. Whilst Otara, South Auckland is perhaps the polar opposite of that world, there’s a similarity in the work you’re making now compared to what you made whilst living here during your degree studies. What are the things you like to capture that exist in both these disparate spaces?

I like the documentary approach to photography because I want my work to be raw and honest as it can be by not distracting the frame, purely observing and recording moments that gives people a very different Marlborough, a more grounded look at people who live and work here and not just the beautiful landscapes that the region is renowned for.

I’m thinking good jobs and limited big city distractions make working in Marlborough a pretty worthwhile opportunity for a lot of Pacific Islanders. What do you see as the benefits of working and living there, and are there things you miss or long for?

The most common thing that attracts a lot of Pacific Islanders to Marlborough was and still is the vineyard business. There are other jobs here and there but we, as Pacific Islanders living in Blenheim are renowned to be working out in the vineyards. In Marlborough, being a hot spot for tourism, you’ll likely see and meet a lot foreigners who come here for labour work. One of the benefits of living in Blenheim that I realised after moving back here was how it reminded me of my village in Tonga; countryside, quiet and slow pace lifestyle as opposed to the fast pace and noisy Auckland. There are couple of things I do miss though; the takeaways, access to Pacific Island foods such as taro or cassava and the Pacific art scene.

I’m so happy that this opportunity has inspired you to make some new work, I love what it adds to this exhibition, and to the wider PIMPI Winter Series. I’m wondering, what kind of things are on your art bucket list? What would you love to shoot, where would you love to show your work, and what kind of impact would you like your work to have?

In the near future I want to document some of the groups of Pacific Island workers who come here on a 3-6 months working Visa in the vineyards. I’m starting to look at landscape photography, and I’ve met quite a few foreigners and want to do some work with them. I want document other Pacific Island communities in other towns in the South Island and would love to show that work in South Auckland because I want people to know we exist and that you can make a good living in the smaller towns in the South Island.

That’s not Pacific Art
6-22 August
Featuring Faafeu Kapeneta, Ana Lakusa, Qingze Nan and Genevieve Pini.

Big Willie Legacy Barber & Tattoo Studio is located at 159 Mt Eden Road, Mt Eden, Auckland. Open Mondays from 9am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday from 9am-7pm. Barber and tattoo appointments and enquiries: /

Exhibition and Artwork Enquiries

Talafungani Finau is an Ōtāhuhu-based artist whose practice is informed and embedded in contemporary Tongan culture, custom and aesthetics. Her lei artistry pushes the boundaries of wearability, edibility and love! I asked her about inspiration and observations of new materials in Tongan koloa…

Your work Hilifaki kahoa in “U Can’t Touch This” for the PIMPI Winter Series is stunning, and smells and looks delicious! Where did you get the inspiration for this work and what materials have you used?

Aww malo Ema! The inspiration derives from my recent trip to Tongatapu thanks to my mehikitanga Sela E Finau… *coughs* high status aunty* lol, where we were able to attend the Coronation (fkmalo lahi atu Ma’ata Havea… oh wait? can we do shout outs on your blog?  hehehe). If it wasn’t for these two ladies, I wouldn’t have been able to say, “I was inside the Centenary Church for the coronation ceremony of King VI, ya’ll!”.  Which is a big deal because it was invitation only. Gangstaa riiight? haha!

The materials comprised of bias fabric tape (used as the bone structure of the lei because the chocolates are pretty heavy and without the bias tape the lei would just rip apart), gold ribbon to tie the Lindt Lindor (quality milk chocolate), and clear masking tape to hold the Ferrero Confetteria Raffaello (a crisp coconut w/ almond centre). Together it forms the silhouette of the red robe worn King Tupou VI.

You’re an experienced lei maker, how did you get into it and what is your favourite style of lei to make and gift?

Well I’m from Texas, and in the States when someone achieves a milestone, we go crazy. Graduations, sweet 16, 21st birthdays, church events, and White Sundays… we honour them all. I really got into it back when I was a student at Trinity High School (T’s UP!) where our Polynesian Club sold candy leis to raise money. And the competition is real out there ya’ll. Everyone brings out their LEI-game when it comes to graduation season too, so that’s where it started for me. My signature style of lei to make is actually the big personalised candy leis with the BEST goodies, and pretty shiny wrapper foils because I like that bling bling look lol.

I love that your work in the exhibition is perishable, and begs to be eaten! It changes the kind of presence and value of your workmanship, did you consider using non-perishable materials, or does that change the meaning and mana of the idea?

Yes, I did consider making a non-perishable lei… went out and bought the materials for it too… but for me it did change the mana. I understand leis to be perishable: floral or candy. So much hard work goes into a lei, and they can’t be preserved. So whats the point? Well… that’s what love looks like. It’s so beautiful when you give and receive one; the feelings and emotions that come with it, it’s not tangible, kind of like how a lei itself isn’t forever.

There are some interesting developments in the ways particularly Tongan artists utilise modern and readily available materials available here in New Zealand to create customary items such as lei / garlands, dance costumes and kato teu – I’m particularly taken by the innovative use of plastic grapes as the basis of the new genre of kalepi style. Are there any new styles or innovations that have captured your attention, or inspired you?

This may sound hella bias, (#halacare) but my mother is known for her kalepi leis in the States… I supply her grapes from here because she says they’re better quality than what they have available there in America. Her kalepi leis are extremely detailed it’s often mistaken as the real Tongan leis from Tonga.  Much of my talent comes from her, but my hard work ethics is definitely my dad haha!  But of all the kalepi leis I’ve seen here in NZ and overseas, hers are the best and I plan on learning that from her when I go back to Texas in November. She knows her Tongan flowers really well, how the shape or form of the Tongan kahoa looks… I’ll ask her to make you one! 😉

U Can’t Touch This
16 July – 1 August
Featuring Talafungani Finau, Sione Monu, Siliga David Setoga, Daisy Tavilione

Big Willie Legacy Barber & Tattoo Studio is located at 159 Mt Eden Road, Mt Eden, Auckland. Open Mondays from 9am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday from 9am-7pm. Barber and tattoo appointments and enquiries: (09) 630 4380 /

Exhibition & Artwork Enquiries:

Sione Monu is a Canberra-based visual artist whose first exhibition will be U Can’t Touch This, part of the PIMPI Winter Series at Big Willie Legacy Barber & Tattoo Studio. We connected on Instagram, then via email and later in person. I asked him a few questions about his work and ideas…

I came across your work via the Pacific Photobooks project – it looked like a really great opportunity to learn and network with some cool Pacific image makers. How did that experience influence your practice?

Pacific Photobooks was very major for me in networking and learning from Pacific image makers definitely. It was a series of workshops every Saturday in Sydney for Pacific Islander youth to learn from established artists of Pacific decent. We were taught how to use manual on our SLR cameras which I was surprised at how much we can manipulate how the picture comes out before even editing it on Photoshop! It was great. Also being surrounded by Poly artists and listening to them talk about their practice was very inspiring and opened my eyes to the possibilities for us young Poly artists.

Your Instagram is this beautiful archive of your work and experiences, and your selfie game is on point! Do you see digital self-portraiture as a screen-based practice? I’m wondering, do you think something is lost when these images get printed and presented as tangible things?

I love how you put it in your recent blog post where you describe my Instagram as a “gentle insight into Tongan experience in Australia’s capital city.” I’ve always been shy and introverted growing up so Instagram has been this incredible thing for me to express myself and connect with people I wouldn’t have otherwise. Definitely, digital self-portraiture as a screen-based practice seems a natural progression to me especially being part of this technological generation, the possibilities are endless. I do feel something is lost when images are printed and put on a wall, behind another wall, behind a glass door. Too many walls for my liking I think haha! Though I’m sure it’s not so black and white but I just love how accessible Instagram is. I’ve connected with so many people from so many different demographics! All this from a little “selfie” app! It’s really amazing.

I’m so glad that your work is having its first showing in Aotearoa at Big Willie Legacy Barber & Tattoo Studio for the PIMPI Winter Series! You came to Auckland recently and seemed to get a lot done! What were your impressions of the city?

Yes! I’m super excited also! My first ever exhibition! I was recently in Auckland for a great uncle’s funeral. After the funeral I contacted as many Pacific Islander artists based in Auckland that I follow on Instagram for meet ups. I had a good talk with you and Stan over a coffee and coconut ice cream which was fabulous. I got to meet many other artists based in Auckland who I admire very much. It’s been a roller-coaster ride of experiences even now I’m still trying to process it all! Auckland city was alright I guess but south Auckland really has stolen my heart. My morning runs up the local mountains was definitely one of my favourite things about my stay.  I’m actually looking to move over in the near future, and just find my own little space in this beautiful land. Thank the universe for my parents never changing my citizenship to Australian! So I’m still a kiwi y’all! Haha!

You seem to have a big Insta-fan-base with the Pacific arts community – I think there’s a general feeling that your work is fresh to death! I’m excited to see where your practice will take you, but I’m wondering, what’s your big picture, what would be your ideal art future?

My female cousins taught me early the fine art of Instagram/Facebook stalking. But I would spend my stalking sessions stalking Pacific arts people! Haha! And now I have many Pacific arts community followers thanks to my stalking skills, which is nice. What’s my big picture? Well I have keen interests in so many mediums so I’ll just keep sharing my designs, photographs, videos clips, fashion illustrations, with the world through Instagram until the universe says what’s next I guess. As for my art future, something that incorporates all my interests would be a long shot… but a girl can dream!

“King George Tupou was here #2”, one of three illustrations for sale in “U Can’t Touch This”

U Can’t Touch This
16 July – 1 August
Private View
6-8pm, Thursday 16 July
Talafungani Finau, Sione Monu, Siliga David Setoga, Daisy Tavilione

Big Willie Legacy Barber & Tattoo Studio is located at 159 Mt Eden Road, Mt Eden, Auckland. Open Mondays from 9am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday from 9am-7pm. Barber and tattoo appointments and enquiries: (09) 630 4380 /

Exhibition & Artwork Enquiries:

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