On the first Friday of September, we gently launched a new event series called VV First Fridays, a very relaxed approach to bringing together folx interested in Moana Pacific art and ideas here in South Auckland.
Vunilagi Vou’s new site in East Tāmaki is situated a stone’s throw from Ōtara and Dr Sione Faletau is one of three Ōtara-based artists currently showing in our VVxET launch exhibition. Having completed his postgraduate studies at Elam School of Fine Arts, Sione’s work has carved an impressive pathway into the Auckland art world. In 2021, he was commissioned to produce a new work for The Lightship, a new contemporary art site launched by the Ports of Auckland consisting of a 110m-long, 13m-high light wall that wraps around the western façade of the port’s car handling building. His work was entitled, Kupesi Sisi Huelo ‘oe Taulanga Waitematā moe Funga Tāmaki Makaurau – The Garland of patterned Lights of the Watematā Harbour and Auckland City.
This VV First Fridays event sat within what is widely celebrated as Tongan Language Week in part to acknowledge Sione’s work as a Tongan creative practitioner who consistently uses Lea faka-Tonga / Tongan language in the naming of his work. Reflecting on interviews and media coverage about his practice, it is significant to see Tongan language and concepts being discussed in places and spaces where it is rarely seen.
From Sione’s research into Tongan masculinity, his upbringing and experiences going to Tangaroa College and Ōtāhuhu College, the pathways and pillars of knowledge within academic and cultural spaces, Vunilagi Vou’s first ‘First Fridays’ talanoa delved into the murky waters of colonial body politics, where domestic violence sits within the traditional measures of masculinity and the time, space and ephemerality of making video art.
Vunilagi Vou sits in a creative ecology here in South Auckland that weaves countless lives, arts practice and experience together. At this first VV First Fridays talanoa, we realised that fellow Ōtara-based artist, Leilani Kake, was working at Ōtāhuhu College when Sione was there and coordinated a pretty spectacular school trip that he went on in 2008 to the Festival of Pacific Arts in Pago Pago, American Sāmoa. Clinton Hewett was a student at Manukau Institute of Technology in 2013 when I was teaching a paper called Pacific Art Histories: An Eccentric View (and was an awesome student!) and went on to be the Gallery Coordinator of Fresh Gallery Ōtara. Benjamin Work had his first exhibition proper at Fresh Gallery Ōtara in 2012 in my outgoing show there, WWJD: What Would Jim Do? and ten years on, has just opened a significant solo show at Bergman Gallery in central Auckland entitled, To’a Motu, the title of his first work shown at Fresh Gallery Ōtara.
Vinaka vakalevu to our neighbouring business, Koleta Pacific Boutique, whose owner-operator, Davina, kindly came by to share some tips on mixing kava and with a lot of laughter, helped christen Vunilagi Vou East Tāmaki with our first bowl!
Our VV First Fridays programme is an evolving currently unfunded kaupapa; there are some exciting ideas in the pipeline including film screenings, skill-sharing exchanges and talks inspired by the environmental context of the Ōtara waterways and wetlands. In this new time-space of East Tāmaki, it’s great to feel grounded again in the energy of the greater Ōtara area, and the creative ecology, community and networks, that Vunilagi Vou was born from and continues to serve.
Watch this space!