Viewing Itiri Ngaro's works, it is easy to recognise his many years of performing in cultural and contemporary music groups.
Itiri writes, directs, produces, and, at times, features in the films that reflect his upbringing and strong Cook Island heritage. Growing up attending the Newton Pacific Islands Church (PIC) and spending time at Freeman's Bay Hall with the Aitutaki cultural group, Itiri grew up a part of the heart of Auckland's Pasifika community. Performing is part and parcel of his Pacific Island heritage, this progressed through to school where he was part of dancing, singing, music and drama groups. These experiences have
transitioned into an artistic practice that he calls "an expression of creativeness. That's still what I am doing today, expressing myself in whatever medium."
From performance arts, Itiri decided that he could express his creativity through moving images. He trained in all aspects of the industry while completing a degree at the New Zealand Film and Television School. This experience led him to produce Colours of a Suitcase in 2000, a short abstract film that used music rather than dialogue to accompany the colour-themed journey told through a man's imaginings during a taxi ride. In 2007, Tautai gave Itiri an opportunity to create a film for Le Folauga at Auckland Museum. For this art work, Itiri recalls "I just let go in order to let it flow. I found it easy to get back to the visuals and images." The outcome was Te 'Oki'anga o Te Vaerua - The Returning of the Soul. This short film contends with cultural identity in a poetic, visually vibrant, and fresh style. Visuals such as sand drawings transform into memories of a man trying to escape something, perhaps himself, and the serenity of the West Coast beaches take the audience through the return of the soul from shadowed tortured moments to the present where a man performs deliberate and strong movements of contemporary and traditional dance.
Te 'Oki'anga o Te Vaerua was Itiri's break-through art work and the experience led him to produce Ko te au ata mou kore - The Shifting Shadows in 2008 for Le Folauga at Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts in Taiwan. Ko te au ata mou kore utilises experimental visual techniques to evoke different realities and integrate physical, spiritual, and mental realms. Projections create scenes where silhouettes act out social issues such as physical and alcohol abuse; these scenes are countered by angelic ancestors. As with his earlier autobiographical video work, Itiri's art is self-reflective, depicting an urban reality laced within a Cook Island heritage.
Like the protagonist in both Te 'Oki'anga o Te Vaerua and Ko te au ata mou kore who use symbols of culture, such as a shell necklace and traditional armour in an urban existence, Itiri finds strength and inspiration in his culture. Yet these vignettes are not solely for a Pasifika audience, of course the Pacific essence comes through, "That's part of me," Itiri says. "But I have a different process of being able to channel and link heritage and ancestral knowledge and talents that come through as I try to make my work universal."
Itiri's videos have been exhibited at the Auckland Museum, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts in Taiwan, the Dreaming Festival in Australia, and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.