Lain Blo Yu Mi – Our People Our Lines for #ArtsMonthNZ

Our fourth exhibition at Vunilagi Vou is an image rich homage to the work of Auckland-based Papua New Guinean / Australian mark maker (tattoo practitioner), Julia Mage’au Gray.


Lain Blo Yu Mi – Our People Our Lines (3-28 September) incorporates 119 photographs demonstrating the visual vocabulary Julia works with and the inspiration she draws from Mekeo, Central Province, Papua New Guinea. Her last six months of Instagram posts have been bought to life with hand-written captions, giving voice to the shared moments between Julia and those she has marked, her position on appropriation and assertion of the meaning of Melanesian marks as a mechanism for connecting people with their past, and with themselves.

The exhibition also features two personal narratives of Melanesian women, Emmaline Matagi (Fiji) and Michaelyn Pokarop (Papua New Guinea). Their stories utilise the mode of early ethnological journals that documented societies in Oceania from the perspective of early colonial arrivals, but instead centralise their lives and experience as Melanesian women in diaspora getting marked.

Image courtesy of Emmaline Matagi

Emmaline Matagi’s daughter, Rae-Dawn (aged 9), who was with her mum when she was marked, has contributed insights and illustrations to Emmaline’s story, making her the youngest exhibitor at Vunilagi Vou so far!

Michaelyn Pokarop’s enia (Papua New Guinean fibre skirt) is shown as part of her story, alongside three beautiful written insights to the experience of discovering her family’s tattoo history, and the process of wearing the marks herself.

The exhibition opened on Tuesday 3 September with a performance from Julia’s Nesian Dance class – another beautiful first for Vunilagi Vou – this arcade was made for dancing!

Lain Blo Yu Mi – Our People Our Lines is part of The Arts Foundation‘s new #ArtsMonthNZ initiative, celebrating the work of 120 organisations, with a deep dive into 20 organisations throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, and Vunilagi Vou is one of them. As part of this, we’re inviting our audiences to ponder the question, what is art? and loving the responses!

Lain Blo Yu Mi – Our People Our Lines is on from 3-28 September with a special hand tap tattoo demonstration on Saturday 28 September from 4-6pm, the same day as the Ōtāhuhu Food Festival (10am-4pm).

Vinaka vakalevu to the Melanesian Marks family for allowing us to put Melanesia front and centre this September!