Q&A with Courtney Sina Meredith
Talanoa with Tautai’s Director and artist Etanah Fuimaono-Lalau
Courtney Sina Meredith: I heard about Etanah Lalau before I met her, she was described to me by someone I respected as ‘hard working and very talented’. Known for her efforts to ignite creative community engagement in her own backyard, I looked forward to our paths crossing. Serendipitously, and after working with Tautai in a range of capacities for a decade, I became the Creative New Zealand Pasifika Internships Project Manager for 2018, a programme I had long supported and admired – and who should be selected as an intern that year? Etanah Lalau.
It was my joy and service to support the five Tautai interns for 2018 through what proved to be a year of great metamorphosis for us all. Etanah moved to Tauranga to work at the Tauranga Art Gallery. Her team quickly fell in love with her and it didn’t take long until she had an army of friends and supporters singing her praises. She made an impact, improved systems and processes, and developed confidence in fundraising and event management.
It wasn’t all easy, there were a good deal of challenges that year and the sacred connection between Tuakana and Teina is a mutual exchange – I learned a lot from Etanah too during that period. Since then, she has stayed true to her creative path and found new ways to keep bringing light and alofa to everyone around her. Here we are full circle – connecting again, with Etanah sharing some lockdown musings.
CSM: Firstly, where are you in lockdown and who’s in your bubble?
EL: I’m in Heretaunga (Upper Hutt) with my parents, sister, 3 brothers, niece and nephew.
CSM: How is the lockdown impacting your creative practice?
EL: For the most part I enjoy this time being still, mentally, physically and spiritually. I can be an introvert sometimes, so this lockdown is really feeding that part in me.
Before lockdown I’ve struggled to prioritise my creative practice either because of juggling work, business planning, wedding planning or other community commitments. Now that I’m home every day, it felt like I was always on the go – until now. With more time in my hands and less commuting, my inner creativity has burst out and I’m loving every minute of it. ‘Stay Still’ is a work that reflects me enjoying creating from home.
I’ve also been challenged too with lockdown limiting public physical interactions. For someone like me who loves to explore digital mediums in my art practice, I am one of the least people to share and post on social media. Now everyday all I want to do is connect with family and friends online. The lockdown has challenged me to break down my walls and share a little more online. I’m in the middle of curating a digital safe space for our rangatahi at Taita Clubhouse. I’m learning and growing at the same time. It’s hard work! My hat goes off to those who are savvy with social media all day, every day.
CSM: Going forward, what sort of change do you hope to see in the arts in Aotearoa?
EL: I hope to see more embracement and curiosity for Pasifika art even in the most unusual of spaces. It can be uncomfortable spaces sometimes but who knows what doors will open or what bridges will give us access to more opportunities. In our homes, I hope to hear more Pasifika parents, grandparents and families supporting their children’s interest in the arts. They are either our first supporters or our first dream killers. It’s important to tap into our tupulaga and what they love to do early in life. The conversation starts at home. Also, I hope to see an increase of Pasifika artists and art practitioners in positions of leadership and influence.
CSM: What or who is inspiring you right now?
EL: My family inspires me right now. Everyone’s trying something new at home whether it’s making art with me, baking, starting Zumba classes in the morning, dressing their Sunday best for church online in the sitting room – we find it difficult to do quirky/fun things on a daily norm so I applaud them for making a collective effort to keeping our bubble mentally and physically healthy.
On the frontline, I’m inspired by our Prime Minister Jacinda and all of Aotearoa’s essential workers. Feeling proud to have such leadership coming from her during today’s pandemic.
With the arts I’m inspired by works from our own Pasifika artists. There’s too many to name but off the top of my head – Layplan, the Fafswag collective, Katharine Losi Atafu-Mayo and Tia Sagapolutele to name a few. I admire their courage to live in their truth.
CSM: What do you miss most about life before lockdown?
EL: I miss physically interacting with my community, from extended family members, friends, rangatahi at my workplace and local bakers. We definitely weren’t designed on earth to isolate that’s for sure! I miss nature as well, going on small hikes and walks. And not going to lie, I miss me a list of takeaways, but I won’t even start that convo ha!
CSM: Do you have any recommendations for good books, films, TV series, podcasts or quarantunes?
EL: Lately, Jojo Rabbit by Taika has sat at the top for a while. Slew is my YouTube artist, or the Earth series are the go to’s for an easy watch.
CSM: Do you have any words of advice for other Pacific artists as to what’s sustained you during this period of global transformation?
EL: Keep on making. Keep on sharing. Always speak from love, even amongst differences, pain and suffering.
Artists in general I believe are deep feelers of the world. They are bold because of the way they navigate life in the world through gut instincts and feelings. They know when the world is sick and when it’s healthy because of their gift in observing the world. Their works are always highlighted during and after major cultural shifts and no doubt societies will look to them right now for inspiration, healing and hope.