Painting / Drawing / Photography / Sculpture / Installation
Postcards Unlocked #25
Telly Bronson Toutai-i-moana Tuita (b.1980) is part pragmatist and part alchemist. To see his work is to see intuitive magic borne out of the Tā/Vā Tongan philosophy married with Western formalism.
Tuita belongs to the Tongan diaspora and was not raised entirely on his tūrangawaewae (Māori concept – a place where one has the rights of residence and belonging through kinship and genealogy). In Tuita’s own words he was “spirited away” from Tonga to the Eora Nation (Sydney, Australia) by his grandfather, Solomone ‘Alokuo’ulu Tu’iniua Tuita when he was 9 years old. On this life-defining journey, Tuita was chosen by his grandfather to the be the recipient of ancient knowledge. Solomone knew that this was going to be his only chance to etch Tongan lore and philosophies into his grandson’s intellect and this knowledge would be the ocean that would connect them forever.
Tuita freely experiments with Western art history, deconstructing its frameworks in order to construct his own hybrid aesthetic: Tongpop. Born from the artist’s love of colour, Tongapop places bright bold hue alongside an exploration of Tongan symbolism and pattern. Adornments and trinkets are drowned in strong pigment then layered, recasting them as new fetish objects that simultaneously celebrate and critique their proliferation as souvenirs from an island paradise.
Rather than lamenting the synthetics used to create lei, mats and bowls – objects that would have been made with natural materials in the past – he embraces the vibrancy made available through artificial mediums. The parallel and opposing streams of thought in Tuita’s work define a different way in which we can value the things we surround ourselves with. He energetically imbues his finds with an alternate purpose – that which was discarded is now prized.
When you look at Tuita’s paintings they are a celebration, a refutation and recognition of Tonga – as it was, as it is now and what it could be.
“It all comes from a place of not knowing, because how could we know? After what the settlers did to us, and what we did to ourselves? It is about living inside that not-knowing and going ‘Fuck it! We can create it here and now, for the future and for the past! For our mokopuna and for our tūpuna!’ These paintings are a guide over that uncertain sea.”
Source acknowledgements: Leafa Wilson, Zoe Black and Essa May Ranapiri.