And Then What? – art and activism through a Pacific lens
16 August – 14 September, ST PAUL St Gallery, AUT.
And Then What? explores political agency in art and how colonialism shapes identity. The Tautai exhibition is curated by leading artist Rosanna Raymond and features works by eleven Auckland and Wellington tertiary students.
And Then What? includes installations, performative and sound works, moving image and painting. As well as opening night performances and artists talks, the project includes a women’s only gathering that focuses on cultural ceremonies, attitudes to sex and blood rites.
And Then What? is the tenth tertiary exhibition supported by Tautai and features work by artists currently studying in Auckland or Wellington: Katharine Atafu-Mayo, Daniel Ellison, Jessie Hack, Taiese Leapai, ‘Ofa Lehā, Tehlor-Lina Mareko, ‘Uhila Kanongata’a Nai, Tyrun Posimani, Kahurangiariki Smith, Lastman So’ula and Naawie Tutugoro. See pages 2 and 3. The group were selected by Rosanna Raymond to respond to the ‘provocation’: “What are you as an artist contributing to the current POLYtical environment? Does politics have a place your art practice, what does art and activism look like through a Pacific lens?” Topics that are explored include colonial histories, their effects on culture, identity loss and choice – and how these elements play out in Aotearoa today.
The Tautai tertiary exhibition has evolved since its beginnings in 2009. The first six annual exhibitions held at ST PAUL St Gallery featured Auckland-based artists. In 2015, the online offering, The Drowned World opened the project up to student artists throughout the country. In 2016 the show evolved into a biennial cycle, enlisting experienced curators to lead projects and extending its reach with an expanded public programme and a Wellington exhibition following the Auckland debut. The tertiary exhibition provides student artists the opportunity to better understand how an exhibition is put together and provides participating artists with additional professional development opportunities – including presenting an artist talk and having their work critiqued by people from outside their tertiary institution.
“Participating in a major exhibition is most definitely a great experience for these developing artists,” Rosanna Raymond says. “They are having to work to deadlines that are not flexible, working with a professional gallery and the installation process, as well as presenting their work to the wider public. There are so many pluses in this for them.”
ST PAUL St Gallery Director Charlotte Huddleston says, “The Tautai tertiary exhibition is a hugely significant recurring event and we are proud to have hosted it since the start in 2009. It’s a real highlight for artists’ friends and families, and our audiences to see new work by emerging artists. We see it as a way to support the development of students’ practices and contribute to the health and wealth of Pacific arts practices.”
Rosanna Raymond is an innovator of the contemporary Pacific art scene, producing diverse work as an artist, collaborator and curator. Her work is held in public and private international collections. In 2017 Rosanna had artist residencies at De Young (San Francisco) and the University of Hawai’i; was the Honorary Research Associate at the Department of Anthropology and Institute of Archaeology at University College (London); and was awarded a Chester Dale Fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum (NYC). Rosanna’s Samoan heritage has fuelled her artistic practice, including re-constructing notions of the Dusky Maiden as part of the acclaimed Pacific Sisters arts collective. Rosanna’s many group and solo exhibitions include: The Asia Pacific Triennial (Australia, 2015), Dead pigs don’t grow on trees and Fa’amania (Auckland, 2014); Face a Face (Rarotonga 2011), ethKnocentrix (London, 2009). Recent curatorial projects include Ata Te Tangata – an exhibition of work by photographers of Maori and Pacific heritage (China, 2016; Auckland 2017) and Fā’aliga-Beyond the grass Skirt– contemporary and historical dance costumes from around the Pacific (Mangere Arts Centre, 2018)
Katharine Atafu-Mayo is best known for her moving image, installation and activation work involving indigenous Samoan practices. She is of afakasi descent; and growing up felt she lacked knowledge around her Samoan heritage. Naturally this drove her creative direction where she has explored, challenged and celebrated her culture. Colonisation, westernization and immigration are aspects she touches on to do so. “To me art isn’t just aesthetic content, it is a tool to inform, spark change and use as a remedial activity.” As her practice has developed Katharine has started to move into a direction where she attempts to create conversation to alter perspectives in hopes to bring action, a social art practice. The healing she has found in creating art is something she wants to gift others, in hopes of leaving this place a little better than it last was.
Daniel Ellison (Ngāi Tahu) was born, lives and works, in Auckland. Contemporary writing technologies and conventions form the framework of his practice. Looking to contemporary poetry and literature, Ellison develops systems for shaping linguistic material sourced online. He treats making his work as an exercise in information management situated in language. Current work repurposes content from retail brands and online news media that, in the screen-distracted internet age, have become a constant source of information, misinformation, and influence. The info-misinfo paradox highlights the intrinsic differences between language, meaning, information, and truth. Ellison examines the presence of stupidity and the sublime in both the content and delivery mechanisms of online publishing platforms. For this show, he created work in response to the various ways Maori and Pacific people are represented in advertising and the news.
Jessie Hack is a Cook Island/Chinese/Pakeha artist interested in inherited cultural memory – particularly the instinctive ancestral knowledge that emerges in art making, relationships and physicality. Her desire to connect with her Whakapapa comes from the cultural gap left by her grandparents immigrating to Aotearoa and assimilating into Pakeha culture. Their wish to move into the future, become European, successful and financially secure, resulted in Jessie being born in Perth, Australia. She has journeyed searching for her place in the world and recently began exploring her Cook Island heritage in her art. Jessie works with her own ancestral narrative to propel herself into the future taking with her the strong links to her Whakapapa, the grandeur of the present moment and her ever present desire for transformation.
Taiese John Leapai has kept close to the Samoan proverb “O le fuata ma lona lou” [“there is a harvesting pole for every crop”] growing up. The proverb describes how leaders will always arise in every generation. “Growing up as a first-generation NZ-born Samoan has given me rich context and a stepping stone that I continue to use as the basis of my art. The paintings and drawings I create consist mostly of portraiture and the idea of identity, profiles usually based on friends, family and honouring the deceased – always having respect for those who have come before, drawing back layers of genealogy and never forgetting our ancestors.” Taiese’s works in And Then What? were made after a family friend’s tragic drowning in 2012. “He had leapt into the water to help a struggling child and later was unable to get on shore. In this series I have decided to represent the 209 drownings of Pasfika and Maori people in New Zealand from 2011-2017. The faces range from quite defined to blurry and ghostly. This represents how the definition of our memories fades. I liken this to my concerns around diminishing knowledge of Samoan culture. This is a simple work that remembers these people, but it is also a quiet protest about the post-colonial erasure of Indigenous cultures.”
‘Ofa Lehā was born in Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland. “After my third birthday, my parents decided to move our family to the USA. My late grandmother who lived there wanted to adopt me because I was her eldest grandchild. I grew up in Los Angeles during my childhood years. After six years, my grandmother passed away and so I returned with my parents to New Zealand for a better living. My siblings and I were born and raised in western society but we have never been to Tonga. Sometimes people think we were born and raised in Tonga from the way we all managed to speak Tongan fluently. Many have asked how we kept the language strong. I believe it all depends on how one’s parents raise their children. Growing up, my parents never taught us English, that we can learn how to speak English when we start school. Our number one family rule was that we must only speak Tongan at home and speak English at school or outside the house. When people ask me where I’m from, I get confused and answer back with a question: ‘Where I was born or raised?’ Being born here and raised in the USA has made it hard to calculate where I’m from and where I belong.”
Tehlor-Lina Mareko is a multimedia artist who uses photography to investigate subjects of Pacific culture, identity, colonialism, stereotypes and genealogical connections. Tehlor-Lina was born in Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand in 1994 and lives here. She embraces Samoa as her ancestral and spiritual home and her Samoan heritage stimulates her artistic ventures, playing a huge part in the making of her photographs. The gaze is a controversial topic that many Pacific artists including herself emerge themselves within, often attempting to return the gaze or subvert it. In recent works she has used herself as the subject for all her photographs, intending to provide a language of Native power and freedom in preference to simply a restricted critique of colonial power.
Uhila Kanongata’a Nai is a Tongan New Zealand born artist, who moved to live in Pelehake, Tongatapu with her Grandma in 1999 until immigrating back to New Zealand aged 13. Nai’s focus on traditional craft, in particular, the art of ngatu, seeks to bridge inherent process and contemporary methodology of this intergenerational knowledge. The embodied memory of making, knowledge handed down from her Grandma, was sorted between two contemporary functions of the materials; milemila ‘umu and kato lā. The notions of travel and packing are a constant theme in ‘Uhila’s practice, an action the artist undertook while packing traditional foods bound for New Zealand while growing up in Tonga.
Tyrun Posimani is an aspiring musician, writer, composer and performer who has always wanted his work to make people feel, to induce some sort of reflection. “Whether that be anger or adoration for me or themselves, tends to matter less to me, so long as what I have created has moved its receiver into thinking. In the pursuit of that dream I am currently in my final year studying commercial music. Most of my time is spent behind a microphone, computer or in a space, creating. Little by little, this creating has gone from mainstream to whatever it is that lives on the other side of that spectrum, and with great love, I have been able to create works that challenged not only my perception of music, art, and performance, but my scope on how these can be used spatially and emotionally.”
Kahurangiariki Smith’s waka are Te Arawa, Tainui, Takitimu, Horouta and Mataatua. “Being raised with traditional Maori values, I have a keen interest in my heritage and the stories of my ancestors. I engage almost daily with art through the form of university work, my own art practice, helping others with projects, and in working part time at a moko studio. I am inspired by what surrounds me and wish to continue putting more indigenous art out in the world to connect with the histories of other minorities. My art often comes through in digital formats, a reflection of the media we all engage with in person and online, such as gifs and video games. I believe there is power within the intersection of traditional perspectives and contemporary media. Here, within that tension, we may explore the potential for indigenous voices in unlimited ways.”
Lastman Sooula is a New Zealand born Samoan. “My father is from Fasito’o Uta, Upolu, and my mother is from Safune, Savai’i. I am a mixed-media contemporary artist. I recently graduated from the University of Auckland, at the Elam School of Fine Arts, with a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts (Honours), and I am currently studying for my Masters, also at Elam. My art practice has been primarily based on the complexities of the urban Pacific Islander experience. This is shown through the exploration of the cause and effects of colonisation, and how our past continues to impact our people today, the shift in culture and its inevitable change. As a spoken-word artist with the South Auckland Poets Collective, I use poetry as a foundation for my artworks, and perform poetry as a contemporary way to reconnect with my ancestral oratory roots.”
Naawie Tutugoro looks at sequences of mapping on a personal, spiritual and site-specific scale. Through modes of foraging and survival, mediums are made of the suburban landscape. The sculptural drawings are grounded by her intuition with references to methods of indigenous architecture. Maintaining relevancy and relativity, Naawie keeps her material presence localised and specific to an experience or memory. Works are characteristically hybrid and minimal with an ontological presence of diaspora. “As a brown body, I am concerned with how much space I take up. This prompted a way of mapping that does not come at the expense of anyone/anything.”
TAUTAI has spent more than 30 years dedicated to the development and support of Pacific arts and artists. The name Tautai draws on the Samoan word for navigator, reflecting a desire to work alongside artists and offer guidance in enhancing their art practice.
Tautai supports the production of new and innovative work by practising artists, runs programmes for secondary and tertiary students of Pacific heritage and maintains a comprehensive website www.tautai.org Tautai receives ongoing major public funding from Creative New Zealand, significant funding from the Foundation North, and generous support from its Fetu Ta’i programme.
Established in 2004, ST PAUL St Gallery is a suite of three galleries located within the School of Art and Design and Te Ara Poutama buildings at Auckland University of Technology.
The Gallery is dedicated to the development of contemporary art, design and exhibition practices through an international programme of exhibitions, events, symposia and publications. Through programmes ST PAUL St also interrogates the proposition that the arts have a particular capacity to speak critically about society. www.stpaulst.aut.ac.nz
For media assistance, contact: Victor van Wetering
T: 0226 423 128 E: email@example.com W: www.tautai.org
Charlotte Huddleston, Director, ST PAUL ST Gallery, AUT