Skip to main content

23RK1785 new

23RK1803 23RK1811
When Auck­land cur­at­or and art his­tor­i­an Nina Tonga wrote a pre­view for Pataka’s Sam­oa Con­tem­por­ary in 2008, she looked for­ward to the day when she would write about con­tem­por­ary Tongan art. As a New Zea­l­and-born Tongan, she hoped to see an exhib­i­tion that explored the con­tri­bu­tion of artists with Tongan her­it­age in New Zea­l­and Aotearoa. Six years later, it’s finally happened — Nina is the guest cur­at­or for Tonga Con­tem­por­ary.

But back to Sam­oa Con­tem­por­ary for a minute… In 2008 I could have sworn that work about cul­tur­al iden­tity was begin­ning to get tired. Wrong. SC was fresh and enga­ging. It was more about con­nec­tion to place than the much-flogged ‘iden­tity’ conun­drum. And it intro­duced a couple of new artists not seen before at this end of Te Ika-a-Māui. Tonga Con­tem­por­ary takes a sim­il­ar start­ing point.

I asked Tonga how con­tem­por­ary art was received in Tonga. That felt like a clumsy ques­tion, so I back­tracked by explain­ing that where I’m from, South­land, con­tem­por­ary art is looked on with sus­pi­cion and mis­un­der­stand­ing. She told me that by neces­sity Tongans are out­ward-look­ing, that the arts in their most gen­er­al sense were cent­ral to Tongan soci­ety, and that the four-yearly Pacific Arts Fest­iv­al atten­ded by nations through­out the Pacific had also rein­forced the value and import­ance of the arts there.

A sense of prox­im­ity to, and dis­tance from, Tonga informs much of the work in Tonga Con­tem­por­ary. Most of the artists in the exhib­i­tion are based in Auck­land; four were born in Tonga, and every­one else is from New Zea­l­and. For Vea Mafile’o and Lucy Auka­folau, a sense of dis­tance has meant the need to estab­lish a rela­tion­ship through vis­its to their ances­tral homeland.

Mafile’o was in Tonga dur­ing the 2006 riots that delayed the crown­ing of the incom­ing king. Her res­ult­ing video work doc­u­ments the riots as they unfol­ded. It provides a pic­ture of the events not seen on main­stream media, hint­ing at the chan­ging socio-polit­ic­al land­scape. In Aukafolau’s video work, a coastal water­line is pro­jec­ted onto a cinder-block wall — like wall-cam on the side of a fale. It doc­u­ments a first trip to her father’s home­land, the Ha’apai Islands, a group of islands to the north of Tongatapu.

As a recog­nised hub for con­tem­por­ary Pacific art, New Zea­l­and plays a key role in the devel­op­ment and sup­port of Pacific artists. Seni­or sculptor Filipe Tohi, for instance, has major pub­lic com­mis­sions in Auck­land and New Ply­mouth. His work in this exhib­i­tion explores less per­man­ent mater­i­als but is under­pinned by his ongo­ing interest in tra­di­tion­al lash­ing methods.

Well-known artist Juli­an Hoop­er is also included in the show — Hoop­er has a Tongan great-great-grand­moth­er in his whakapapa. His brightly col­oured water­col­ours col­lage togeth­er Pacific shapes and images that chan­nel and re-cre­ate a Pacific aesthetic.

Oth­er artists in the show include pho­to­graph­ers Ane Tonga, Emily Mafile’o and Terry Koloamatangi Klavenes, print­maker Dag­mar Dyck, and paint­er Glen Wolf­gramm. Tonga Con­tem­por­ary is on at Pataka Museum of Arts and Cul­tures, Pori­rua, through­out April.


April Art

Cur­at­ori­al intern Emma Ng’s exhib­i­tion Every­day Fic­tion at the Dowse brings togeth­er work that ima­gines every­day life in oth­er times and places. It includes pieces by jew­eller Kirsten Hay­don, an install­a­tion by Andy Irving and Keila Mar­tin, colo­ni­al frocks by Jo Torr, col­lages by Sarah Lee, a digit­al work by SWAMP and Tiago Rorke, an install­a­tion by Bekah Car­ran, and prints by Mari­an Maguire. And I men­tioned it last time, but it doesn’t hurt to read things twice: don’t miss Slip Cast — fab­ulous ceram­ic objects — also at the Dowse. Both of these exhib­i­tions run through­out April.[/info]

Mary-Jane Duffy

Mary-jane is a Paekakariki-based poet and essayist, and FishHead's art columnist. She teaches poetry and academic writing on the Whiyireia Creative Writing programme, torturing students with half-rythmes and pantoums, zombie haiku, and line breaks, referencing and structure. Duffy has a background in museum and gallery work, making a lucky escape from the basement of the City Gallery Wellington in 2002 and opening the Mary Newtown Gallery with Paula Newtown in 2004. Art (across all the disciplines) feels like the closest thing she has to religious experiences - seeing, reading or hearing things that make her brain fizz.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.