Tongan Visual Artist based in Auckland, Aotearoa
Postcards Unlocked #29
My earliest memories of Art was running around on top of large Tapa Cloth laid out by my Grandmother on the lawn to dry out after months being wrapped and stored in between mattresses. I remember first the smell of the fresh Hiapo plant scent as if it was freshly beaten and also the beautiful brown earthly colours which have a shiny coating as if it was glazed as a natural varnish. Then finally the amazing geometric patterns as well as the figurative images which unconsciously would become the basis of my Art practise in the future. This led me to research these images and the significance it has on our culture and find out more about their meanings as well as its function. I carried out my research later when I attended Manukau School of Visual Arts in Otara and graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts and then a Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching 2009.
Having a young family at the time teaching was my best option that I was able to keep practising my Art and also provide. It’s great being a Pasifika Art teacher because you can relate to the students and understand some things that you may have in common and assist them with in particular my strengths. Also, every year you have new challenges and I like the way we are naturally adaptable to work through them in order to find success with your students.
When I was a student there wasnʻt a lot of knowledge and interest around Tongan and Pacific Art as there is now, so there is so much resources now to work from. Art is a subject where students can use their creative side and think creatively which other subjects can be quite intense, so they can get a good balance. I truly believe with hard work and with a positive attitude, the talent will develop. It’s just a matter of hanging in there and not giving up.
It’s not only about Art but finding success in Art and hopefully transitions into other subjects as well. The best feeling is when you see the development of skills by your students and of course gaining the rewards of reaching higher honours in their results.
Just recently I have been fortunate to be commissioned to create artworks for the Britomart Flags Project. I was approached by Paul Baragwanath from Artform Ltd to create a mural in the historical South British Insurance Company Building in the City. It was the first time for a Pacific Artist to show in this space and being in Central Auckland is a wonderful opportunity. So recently I was invited by Jeremy Hansen from the Britomart group to design some artwork to be printed on flags and to be decorated along the Te Ara Tahuhu walkway at the Britomart station. These opportunities have been a blessing.
In these projects I was able to really express my art practice in such a significant area such as Central City and in Britomart which is the heart of Auckland. So really it was my opportunity to share my works with the wider community outside my usual space. The design of the flags really goes back to one of my first inspirations– the tapa designs, not so much the visual imagery such as the birds and plants, more of the geometric shapes. I just find it interesting why our ancestors used simple lines and shapes and, with the process of repetition, they created some amazing new designs or meanings. I wanted to express that in this project. I’m also thinking about nationalism, and about the Mate Ma’a Tonga success in rugby league, how the Tongans are so proud just to back their little country by buying every single flag out there. These flags in Britomart are my expression of myself being Tongan and being an artist and a New Zealander. I think it’s like a fusion of everything in one.
During this lockdown period it has given me time to think about the most important things in life that we may take for granted. I have also had time to work on an exemplar painting for my students and also some commissioned works that I haven’t had much time previously to work on. I will have to see the outcome after this lockdown of how and when we get back to normality and look for exhibition opportunities. Currently I have a dual show penciled in for the end of the year exploring personal patterns.