2022: Building, stirring, growing, hustling – Onwards and upwards!

This year has seen some of the hardest pivots of the pandemic but has ended on December 31, on solid ground.

Operating in ‘low power mode’ for the first few months of the year, Vunilagi Vou was a spaceless entity. With no gallery and relatively few options for storage, Vunilagi Vou tables, chairs, stools and gallery furnishings were re-distributed into the community. The remaining gallery resources went into a small storage unit and the future was a ‘work in progress’.

A project to produce and install a pop-up exhibition curated by Nigel Borell for the Taste of Pasifika four day festival at The Cloud on Auckland’s waterfront was undertaken precariously between a garage in Sandringham, a campervan and a pergola in Papatoetoe. The exhibition, Moonwalkerz, ran for the duration of the festival and also offered an unplanned opportunity for Vunilagi Vou to have a booth at the event.

Installing the exhibition and then working the festival for four days was an act of endurance, but incredibly rewarding. I remembered in the process what I love about the space between art and audiences, holding space for conversations, generating sales for artists and makers, and I remembered the intoxicating energy of Pacific people when we gather, connect, sing and celebrate.

  • Check out Moonwalkerz exhibiting artist profiles here and the digital catalogue designed by award-winning design agency, Extended Whānau here.

A one-off grant from Creative New Zealand’s Pacific Creative Enterprise initiative and the energy of Pasifika Festival created a new momentum in mid-2022; a strategic decision was made to open the doors of a fourth iteration of Vunilagi Vou. The East Tāmaki premises of Vunilagi Vou sits on the edge of environmentally protected wetlands surrounding the Ōtara Stream, in the heart of the Ōtara catchment area. It is a fairly unusual location on the border of the suburbs of Ōtara and Flat Bush / Ormiston nestled amongst predominantly Korean eateries, acupuncturists and physios. But it’s the watery outlook, the peace of the green expanse and the contrast of all the above that makes Vunilagi Vou: East Tāmaki a challenging and exciting space to make exhibitions.

VVxET opened in late August with a day-long opening; time for long conversations, tea, views, rolling waves of visitors. This new space requires a different approach to openings.

  • Read more about VVxET’s first exhibition and open day here.
Maka (2022), a mauri stone by Niuean artist, Chris van Doren in the foreground, work by Ercan Cairns in the background. Photo by Sam Hartnett.

In October, Vunilagi Vou collaborated with Koleta Boutique, another Fijian-owned business located here at 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, on a stall at Auckland’s first Melanesian Festival. The day was a triumph of representation and Melanesian visibility; completely uplifting, inspiring and empowering.

  • Check out this interview for Pacific Cooporation Foundation on the Melanesian Festival here.

Speaking engagements this year were mostly in the form of contributions to panel discussions. In October, I contributed to a discussion on creative entrepreneurship at the CNZ Pacific Arts Summit in Wellington (see below), and in November, made a small contribution to an inspiring gathering of young curators to discuss expanded approaches of curatorial work in Aotearoa at the Aotearoa Art Fair in central Auckland.

But a most special speaking engagement was the opportunity to contribute to the independently run Camp Boom programme produced by Joanna McLeod of House of Boom in Wellington. Delivering an invitational presentation on making space for fat liberation was a beautiful opportunity to reflect on Vunilagi Vou’s FATFEB seasons inspired by Ōtāhuhu-based artist Lissy Cole, and the late Dr Cat Pausé.

The whole Camp Boom programme was so well designed and the venue in downtown Wellington was excellent. The community that came to be amongst it created an amazing energy; sovereign bodies, unshackled from the boring capitalist restraints of fatphobia are glorious to be around. Big ups to Joanna and the House of Boom team; a kaupapa worthy of so much support and investment.

After the ‘low power mode’ of early 2022, the second half of the year saw a rabid return to the rigours of arts fundraising. We crowdfunded with Boosted to generate $10k towards holding two solo exhibitions for local artists, Niu Lemalu and Genevieve Pini in 2023, a particularly challenging feat in the current economic climate. CNZ grants were also secured to support the delivery of a third solo exhibition for the 2023 programme, and a lo-fi programme of events delivered on the first Friday of every month from February to November 2023, an event format first trialled in September – read about it here.

Another small grant was secured to support Vunilagi Vou’s first booth at the Aotearoa Art Fair from 2-5 March 2023, something that has been on the goals list since opening our doors in 2019. Developing this plan has been so exciting; I can’t wait to start building the momentum for this!

In December, I posted a series of Tweets along with other South Aucklanders speaking back to the lazy stereotyping of National Party leader, Christopher Luxon in an interview discussing his perspectives on the ways in which young people in South Auckland are drawn to criminality. The thread turned into a short article for The Spinoff and was shared and discussed widely, notably quoted by the iconic MP Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, co-leader of Te Pāti Māori, in her regular opinion piece for the NZ Herald (14 December 2022).

2022 was a year of bold moves, re-thinking, a bit of whistle blowing, building and cultivating a new ecosystem around Vunilagi Vou’s new locality in East Tāmaki.

To the 150+ individuals who contributed to our crowdfunding campaign; your generosity and investment has been transformational. Words can’t express what it means to be supported by our communities in a cost of living crisis, and a pandemic. This investment in Vunilagi Vou, and artists Niu Lemalu and Genevieve Pini, gives our 2023 programme serious weight. Thank you so much.

Vinaka vakalevu for tremendous support, unwavering belief and investment in the work of Vunilagi Vou in 2022.

2023 is going to be exciting, hard and rewarding. Like Fiji in a post-Fiji First regime era, onwards and upwards!

For Fiji Ever Fiji | Ema & Lanuola, December 2022

Happy New Year!


Image credit: The header image for this post featuring Nigel Borell, Chantelle Whaiapu, Ema Tavola and Tanya Kaihe (background) alongside Leisa Siteine, was taken in Manukau City on 21 December 2022 at a dinner celebrating Leisa’s contributions and leadership within local government, from humble beginnings as an aerobics instructor to the founding manager of Manukau Arts, and outgoing Event Production Manager at ATEED. It was a massive privilege to have worked with Leisa from 2006-2012, and again for Taste of Pasifika in 2022.