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#VVFirstFridays – A beginning…

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 MakaurauThe 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.

Artists Benjamin Work + Clinton Hewett

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.

(L-R) Ema Tavola, Sione Faletau, Benjamin Work, Clinton Hewett and Leilani Kake

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.

Gratitude to Davina from Koleta Pacific Boutique for skill sharing and talanoa whilst mixing Vunilagi Vou’s first bowl in East Tāmaki!

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!

#VVFirstFridays: Dr Sione Faletau

This month Vunilagi Vou kicks off a new event programme at the new East Tāmaki site called VV First Fridays!

On the first Friday of every month, Vunilagi Vou will host an artist talk, thematic talanoa, film screening or workshop centring Moana Pacific art and ideas. Friday nights on Bishop Lenihan Place are abuzz with eateries and bubble tea rooms – a perfect chaser after what promises to be inspiring, sometimes challenging and always thought-provoking talanoa!

This Friday 9 September is the first of the event series acknowledging Tongan Language Week (4-10 September) with local Ōtara-based interdisciplinary artist and researcher, Dr Sione Faletau.

Come and learn about how Sione’s research in Tongan values and the semiotics of sound and design shapes and informs his impressive interdisciplinary practice.

🌺 Doors open at 6pm, Friday 9 September 2022
🌺 #VVFirstFridays is proudly an alcohol-free kaupapa – kava, tea and coffee available
🌺 Koha is welcome! #VVFirstFridays is currently unfunded
🌺 Parking is available outside the main gate of 15 Bishop Lenihan Place
🌺 Vunilagi Vou is located at Suite 14, 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, South Auckland

Artwork credit: “Ongo Ongo” (still), 2022, digital video by Dr Sione Faletau

#VVxET Open Day and South Auckland art history

On Saturday 27 August 2022, Vunilagi Vou’s newest site – VVxET – opens in East Tāmaki, South Auckland!

Instead of a traditional night time opening, VVxET will launch with an Open Day inviting the public to check out the new site, including the gorgeous stockroom and retail area, exhibition space and north-facing verandah!

VVxET is located on the edge of the Ōtara Stream

Tucked away at the back of the Botany South Business Estate at 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, the new Vunilagi Vou premises has a pretty fascinating whakapapa of art dealing and appreciation. Built in 2004, the owner of the building established the ground floor as a small art dealership called I Like Gallery. Run on an appointment-only basis, gallerist Richard Jeffery ONZM, designed a perfectly formed exhibition space with high spec lighting and clean sight lines. It was immediately obvious how good parties would have been in this space!

Of all the commercial leases in all of Manukau / South Auckland, it seems somewhat divinely guided that Vunilagi Vou has ended up here, in a ready-made gallery, on the edge of the Ōtara Stream just 3 kilometres away from Fresh Gallery Ōtara, where it all began 16 years ago!

Maka (2022), a mauri stone by Niuean artist, Chris van Doren

To launch the new exhibition space and ease back into exhibition-making after a 12 month hiatus, a collection of work has been assembled to represent Vunilagi Vou’s Moana Pacific arts community and two decades of professional practice and loving investment into Manukau / South Auckland art history.

The exhibition features recent and archival works by Nigel Borell, Ercan Cairns, Chris van Doren, Dr Sione Faletau, Antonio Filipo, Tanu Gago, Leilani Kake and Niutuiatua Lemalu.

Putiputi (2022) video still by Leilani Kake

The Vunilagi Vou stockroom is also full with works by Cypris Afakasi, David Garcia, Julia Mage’au Gray, Marcus Hipa, Rebecca Ann Hobbs & Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho, Sara Moana, Siliga David Setoga, Pati Solomona Tyrell, Manuha’apai Vaeatangitau and more!

The children’s book, The Legend of Tanovo and Tautaumolau by Kaliopate Tavola and Ema Tavola, in both English and Fijian, is now back in stock, alongside an eclectic collection of accessories, publications, patches and posters!

After this weekend’s Open Day, VVxET will be open Thursday to Saturday from 10am – 2pm, and by appointment.

VVxET Open Day is open to the public this Saturday 27 August from 10am until 6pm all welcome!

Keep up to date on Vunilagi Vou activity via Instagram and Twitter.

#VVxET Open Day – Postponed until 27.08.22 – New Moon, New Space!

Vunilagi Vou’s beautiful fourth site was almost ready to open to the public on Wednesday 17 August 2022 from 10am until 6pm but then I caught Covid!

Having opened three sites since 2019 with boozy evening events, this new site calls in a new era, so appropriately, Saturday 27 August offers the lunar energies of a New Moon!

The open day now taking place on Saturday 27 August 2022 is an open invite to the public to check out VVxET between 10am – 6pm. For anyone still around at 6pm, Bishop Lenihan Place in East Tāmaki is abuzz on Saturday nights; multiple Korean barbecue spots, Bubble tea houses (Hulucat and Wucha), Love Asia, 100 Spicy, Mui Japanese Restaurant all offer excellent options for cheap eats on a weekend in the Southside!

More details to come on an opening exhibition that eases Vunilagi Vou back into exhibition-making mode after a year out of the game, and more details on finding this unassuming little secret spot in semi-industrial East Tāmaki, South Auckland heartland!

What: Open Day for VVxET – Vunilagi Vou’s new East Tāmaki site

Where: Unit 14, Botany South Business Estate, 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, South Auckland

When: 10am – 6pm, Saturday 27 August 2022

#VVxET & Celebrate Aotearoa Glen Innes – The Rebound!

On 17 August 2021, Vunilagi Vou in partnership with Celebrate Aotearoa (led by Tongan designer, Czarina Wilson) were operating in partnership out of The Alexander Cafe in Ōtara, South Auckland. Having built on several opportunities to collaborate, the partnership was pretty dreamy: Vunilagi Vou was making shows in the cafe space, Celebrate Aotearoa had built an awe-inspiring maximalist retail environment on the cafe’s mezzanine floor, and the Māori-Pacific owned cafe was an exciting hub for locals and professionals working in the area.

Visiting artists Aimee Ratana, Iokapeta Magele-Suamasi and Nigel Borell with resident artist-entrepreneurs Ema Tavola & Czarina Wilson, The Alexander Cafe, June 2021

Recently, the outgoing Covid-19 minister, Chris Hipkins, noted that Auckland’s last lockdown in 2021, “may have gone on too long” – a sentiment that hit hard. That lockdown, which started on 17 August 2021, was a dealbreaker. Aucklanders were already fatigued, the pandemic was wearing resilience levels down; so many were suffering in different ways, and parents home-schooling and managing parental demands and expected to work with office-level productivity, were put under tremendous strain.

For Vunilagi Vou, the lockdown meant cancelling events with no known timeframe for re-scheduling, returning grant money and watching the delicate momentum of our third site weaken every day. Whilst government subsidies allowed many small businesses to keep afloat during lockdown, it was the mental and spiritual hit that was perhaps the most debilitating for Vunilagi Vou.

In late 2021, the decision was made to pack down operations at The Alexander Cafe and work with the ebbs and flows of the Covid climate by withdrawing entirely from producing exhibitions and events. Focus was put instead on consultancy work, writing projects and pop-ups, whilst reflecting heavily on what was even possible for small scale creative enterprises in the age of Covid.

Celebrate Aotearoa continued to operate at The Alexander Cafe, but was strategising next steps to keep building on the strong customer base and longer term agenda to find space for not only retail but for making and producing.

Whilst much of Vunilagi Vou’s gallery-based assets had been stored, redistributed and sold, a TradeMe search reminder for commercial leases in the Manukau City and Ōtāhuhu areas kept the idea of a new space quietly alive.

Eastside calling

Earlier this year, working in partnership with long-time friend and colleague, Kiri Nathan, Czarina Wilson started to plant seeds to shift Celebrate Aotearoa operations from South Auckland back to the Eastside – Glen Innes, where both Kiri and Czarina grew up and have deep roots.

After operating from a converted shipping container at The Ōtara Kai Village (2020) and the mezzanine floor in a refurbished factory at The Alexander Cafe (2021-2022), this month Celebrate Aotearoa is re-opening in an amazing new retail space smack bang in the middle of Glen Innes at 3/260 Apirana Avenue, across the road from the Glen Innes train station!

Creative entrepreneurs who do all the things!

After securing Creative New Zealand investment from the Pacific Creative Enterprise initiative, a new pathway emerged for Vunilagi Vou. A property became available that could not have been more perfect: built in 2004, the ground floor commercial space had only ever functioned as a small dealer gallery, fitted out with high spec lighting and a hanging system. Amazingly, the north-facing property is located in East Tāmaki, a stone’s throw from Ōtara, and positioned on the edge of environmentally protected wetlands surrounding the Ōtara Stream.

Another year, another fit-out!

VVxET, Vunilagi Vou’s fourth iteration, is going to re-open symbolically, alongside Celebrate Aotearoa on Wednesday 17 August, marking one year since the start of Auckland’s longest lockdown in 2021. This important milestone also represents the strength of conviction, mental, spiritual and physical labour that both these operations have honed being led by independent, Moana Pacific creatives striving to hold space and create economic growth for the communities we are part of.

It has taken a year of heavy energies, soul searching, a few breaking points, some big sacrifices and a few attempted exit strategies (Wellington, Waiheke, the Far North…), and amazingly not catching Covid, but Celebrate Aotearoa and Vunilagi Vou are on the rebound.

We are both re-opening for business on Wednesday 17 August in our new respective locations:

Celebrate Aotearoa x Glen Innes

3/260 Apirana Avenue, Glen Innes, Auckland
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9am – 5pm, Saturday 9am – 1pm
For updates + info: Instagram | Facebook

Vunilagi Vou x East Tāmaki

Suite 14, 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, Auckland
Opening Day Drop-in Hours: 10am – 6pm
Usual Opening Hours: Thursday – Saturday, 10am – 2pm
Appointments available outside of opening hours get in touch here.

Whilst not working in the same site anymore, Vunilagi Vou and Celebrate Aotearoa will always have each other’s backs!

Support Moana Pacific small businesses! Support women in business! Support mothers who make! And help tautoko two mates who have gotten up after every knock back, cackled, and started again!

Wishing Celebrate Aotearoa a massive opening season! Get along to check out what a master visual merchandiser working back her hood can do!

2021 was… a lot.

2021 has been perhaps the most challenging year of my professional career, but pandemic pivots, shapeshifting and cold hard lockdown reality checks sat alongside some pretty amazing and uplifting moments. In the spirit of the season, here are some of 2021’s most wonderful highlights:

FATFEB 2021

Photography by Pati Solomona Tyrell
Photography by Pati Solomona Tyrell

This year, FATFEB was produced under the creative leadership of South Auckland designer, Amy Lautogo, who developed an ambitious programme that added to and honoured the inaugural programme developed in 2020 in partnership with Ōtāhuhu-based artist and designer, Lissy Cole.

>>> Check out last year’s Fat Babe Pool Party here.

Photography by Pati Solomona Tyrell

The 2021 programme activated the Vunilagi Vou 2.0 space beautifully, fully utilising the fale for the Talanoa and life-drawing events, and what would have been a site-specific performance work by Ria Hiroki and Elyssia Wilson-Heti, were it not for a Covid-19 community outbreak situation and snap lockdown in Auckland in mid-February.

It was a privilege to produce the second manifestation of the FATFEB kaupapa; the 2021 programme attracted significant funding from Creative New Zealand’s Pacific Arts funding programme and engaged audiences and raised awareness all over Aotearoa. Whilst Vunilagi Vou won’t be producing a 2022 programme, it has always felt like a platform to amplify and make visible conversations about BBIPOC fat liberation and build community without a sense of ownership; since FATFEB 2020, it has been lovely to see fat babe pool parties happening in Pōneke and Ōtautahi. It’s also always a pleasure to see events like FATFEB play a small part in the exciting careers of young artists like Sara Moana and social media creator slash cultural commentator MahMah Timoteo.

two water shows

two water shows was Ngati Ōtara by Antonio Filipo and big islands deep oceans by David Garcia, twin solo exhibitions that ran concurrently at two sites in Ōtara and Papatoetoe from 29 March until 12 May 2021.

The concept of two water shows was a public/private approach to exhibition making in South Auckland, locating one exhibition in a community space, and one at Vunilagi Vou 2.0 in residential Papatoetoe. Thematically connected, each independent exhibition was made site specifically for their unique settings.

At The Alexander Café, Ngati Ōtara was the first solo exhibition by Ōtara-based artist, Antonio Filipo; his eight recent aerial photographs offered a birds eye view on Ngāti Ōtara Park, its waterways and surroundings, and a necessary shift in perspective of Ōtara and its natural beauty.

At Vunilagi Vou, big islands deep oceans was a suite of new works by Ōtautahi-based mapmaker, David Garcia, depicting the majestic Pacific ocean floor made up of submarine structures and habitats that evolve with the water and atmosphere over time.

two water shows was part of Vunilagi Vou’s 2021 exhibitions programme produced with support from our 2020 BoostedxMoana crowdfunding campaign and the generosity of 118 wonderful donors.

>>> Read a short interview with Antonio Filipo here
>>> For artworks still available from these exhibitions, get in touch.

The Alexander Cafe, Ōtara

The Alexander Cafe was a great space to flex some new ideas in 2021. Finally a spot in Ōtara to get decent coffee and to present site-specific exhibitions in good light with local audiences. Whilst we moved out formally from the mezzanine floor space in November, fellow creative entrepreneur Czarina Wilson has stayed on with her beautiful boutique retail operation, Celebrate Aotearoa.

Portraiture in South Auckland

“Diamonds in the Back” Series (2021) by Genevieve Leitu Pini
“Diamonds in the Back” Series (2021) by Genevieve Leitu Pini
“Kus” (2021) by Marcus Hipa
“Baba Yaga” (2021) by Niutuiatua Lemalu

The last exhibition produced in 2021, and perhaps for the foreseeable future was Picture Me Rollin’ – Portraiture in the Southside at The Alexander Cafe. The new work by Genevieve Leitu Pini, Marcus Hipa and Niutuiatua Lemalu was so good and whilst the exhibition was cut short by another lockdown, I’m excited to see where these artists will show and go in the future.

Yoga & Meditation at Vunilagi Vou 2.0

One of the most rewarding parts of 2021 was the season of Yoga & Meditation classes at Vunilagi Vou 2.0 led by Gamo Farani Tomlin. Bringing together small and eclectic groups of locals, Gamo’s classes made a big impact for everyone who attended. For me, these classes were critical in managing the cyclonic energies of 2021 – so much gratitude for Gamo!

Whilst from the back-end of being an event and exhibition producer, the amount of Covid cancellations, rescheduling and pivoting 2021 required was exhausting and often disheartening, this year was also a great year to start selling online, grow a new community on Twitter, make artwork again during lockdowns, and publish Vunilagi Vou’s first title, VV:Dua.

In 2022, Vunilagi Vou won’t be producing an events and exhibitions programme for the first time, but some exciting projects currently underway will be coming to life, including:

>>> Producing new work for Volume: Bodies of Knowledge curated by Torika Bolatagici for Metro Arts, Brisbane and Bus Projects, Melbourne.

>>> VV: Southside Swan Song – A second publication about Vunilagi Vou’s growth, output and philosophy, produced with support from Creative New Zealand Pacific Arts programme.

>>> Supporting a small group of Moana Pacific artists on inspiring independent research and exhibition projects – good things take time and talanoa, love it!

Grounded work in progress by Ema Tavola for Volume: Bodies of Knowledge

And a relocation from South Auckland to Wellington! So open to what will come from this major cultural shake-up and recalibration of time and space!

To everyone who has bought artwork and merch and supported a year of stop and start programming, across two locations, online and offline – thank you, sincerely, vinaka vakalevu.

All the best for a restful and safe festive season!

Clarity, Renton Road and a broken habit

Down Renton Road in Māngere, on Ihumātao whenua, pōhutakawa trees cling to the edges of the land that meets the sea. Half way between up and down, these weathered beings endure, roots exposed, horizontally resilient. Their gnarly reaching branches grow low to the ground, as if to confuse and cradle passers-by. Or me, at least.

The rugged beach down Renton Road has been a place of escape, solitude and reflection for almost 20 years. I’ve marvelled at these rule-breaking trees, sat in them and listened to kōtare, walked face-first into branches and become disoriented by their upside-down-sideways perspective-bending finesse.

During Auckland’s longest lockdown that started in mid-August 2021, I made regular trips down to Renton Road, daughter and dog in tow. These visits, our only outings, were and continue to be opportunities to recharge, and for the three of us in our bubble, time to look outwards and not at each other for a change.

I often take a heavy heart down Renton Road. The impetus to drive there, a 30 kilometre round trip, often comes from a point of mental messiness, reduced clarity. Whatever is happening with the tide, the wind, the other activities that often happen down Renton Road, or the state of the beach or carpark, just being there soothes the wairua. I used to watch planes taking off and landing at Auckland Airport from Renton Road beach and think the peace of this space for me was maybe the feeling of being close to the exit at all times.


On my last trip down Renton Road, I was trying to work out how to articulate where Vunilagi Vou is at. How to share more decisions made out of necessity and principles, stretching further, digging deeper to survive in a climate of chronic crisis. How would I be able to articulate resilience, and offer confidence, whilst watching a pre-pandemic business model crack and creak, bend and breach…

I sat in a pōhutakawa tree and listened to the kōtare. I was reminded that Vunilagi Vou was born on the walls of my parents’ downstairs room in 2018 when I initially left South Auckland to reverse migrate to my hometown of Suva, Fiji. I was on a high that year, producing talks, exhibitions and projects in Casablanca, London, Berlin and Melbourne. I ended up reverse reverse migrating back to South Auckland in 2019 determined that Southside was where Vunilagi Vou needed to be.

Vunilagi Vou engine room, Suva, Fiji, 2018.

I do a lot of #ThrowbackThursday across social media channels to this period and Vunilagi Vou’s first nine months of operation, which included more inspiring opportunities in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kinshasa and Adelaide. It wasn’t until the middle of 2020 that the prospect of having no international travel within the scope of Vunilagi Vou, hit home, and in reality, I’ve been mourning this loss deeply ever since.

The pōhutakawa trees down Renton Road feel like a pretty good visual for where Vunilagi Vou is at right now. The roots have always been strong, even as the ground that initially facilitated her growth has been eroded. Vunilagi Vou has now been in operation for longer during the pandemic than before it. The pandemic projects and pivots, collaborations and commissions, the shapeshifting… everything has added to Vunilagi Vou’s growth, but it’s just growing… a bit weird now.


Apparently it takes 90 days to break a habit. By this time, its daily control over our lives has diminished or disappeared, or become manageable. We adapt and recalibrate with new habits whilst our relationship with the old habit is repeatedly analysed and deconstructed, opening up the potential for quiet existential dread, on a daily basis. I quit smoking and drinking alcohol 97 days ago.

Next week it’ll be 90 days since Vunilagi Vou operated full-time onsite at The Alexander Cafe in Ōtara. Like last year’s long lockdown, this period has been time for transformation and re-shaping born from frustration, endless domestic labour and deep reflection on the precarious sustainability, ethics and financial insecurity inherent within Aotearoa’s creative and cultural sector.

It feels like no two days of Vunilagi Vou’s existence since late 2018 have been the same. Massive upheavals, tremendous highs and lows, and the constant, non-stop hustle required to craft an independent creative work plan fuelled on mad ideas and confidence, calculated hype, and the trade and exchange of pictures and stories.

It has taken 90 days, most of this time with no childcare and no family support, to think about where Vunilagi Vou is today, and to come face-to-face with a niggling disappointment, a sadness, and commit again to re-thinking and re-strategising where things can go from here.


Emory Douglas

In the interest of survival:

  • Vunilagi Vou will no longer be in the business of producing events.
  • Vunilagi Vou is moving out of the custom-designed mezzanine office space at The Alexander Cafe as of this month. Celebrate Aotearoa will remain in the space and is super excited to open up to customers as soon as The Alexander Cafe is able to open for in-house service.
  • Vunilagi Vou 2.0 no longer has the capacity to offer Yoga & Meditation class due to heavy construction and disruption on the housing development site next door.
  • Commissioned writing, consultancy and the VV Online Shop will be the key focus areas until further notice.
  • I’m moving to Wellington.

30 Days of Lockdown

The Auckland region has been in Alert Level 4 lockdown for now over 30 days. An outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19 has the potential to cause disproportionate havoc in South Auckland, where there are high concentrations of systemically disadvantaged communities, deprivation and overcrowded households. With daily reported numbers of positive cases now going down (ish) and vaccination numbers reportedly going up, there is some light at the end of this new tunnel that we all now live in.

As Aotearoa moved into snap lockdown in mid-August, Vunilagi Vou was on the verge of rolling out a Creative New Zealand-funded event series at The Alexander Cafe. The project itself was a pivoted concept developed to salvage a 2019 funded project that became pandemic unviable. The VVxAlexander Talanoa Series was intended to be four monthly talanoa events dedicated to unpacking some of the sector’s most urgent, problematic and pressing conditions, with a collective of incredibly inspiring Moana Oceania arts managers, thinkers and change-makers. With two of the proposed events in the series absorbed into and thus cancelled by Level 4 lockdown, and the proposed dates for the third and fourth events potentially impacted by heavy restrictions on gathering numbers and general and perceived risk of community transmission, it’s fair to say that the VVxAlexander Talanoa Series, in its current form, is a yet another pandemic casualty.

Resilience is a condition that can grow from this culture of producing. Events are more vulnerable than ever to being impacted by postponement, cancellations and often conceptual pivots; producing in the unpredictability of the pandemic climate requires a deep commitment, strong support systems and lot of gumption.

Vunilagi Vou was built with full reserves of those things back in 2019, but as a largely one-woman-led independent operation that exists in balance with the demands of solo parenting, the culture and climate of producing in 2021, has drained the tanks. Learning of the New Zealand Government’s investment in the creative and cultural sectors through the Ministry for Culture & Heritage Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme was at first encouraging, but seeing such vast quantities of that investment funnelled into already well-funded organisations, has been incredibly dispiriting.

There have been ways that some of those well-funded organisations have engaged independent practitioners and producers, like Vunilagi Vou, to effectively share resource and perform resilience collectively, but within the complexity of this power dynamic, there is unfortunately always room for exploitation.

The third event in the VVxAlexander Talanoa Series was entitled, The State of Art: Culture Shifts & the Pandemic and was scheduled to include celebrated curator Nigel Borell, and myself, alongside South Auckland-based analyst and commentator Shane Ta’ala. I was personally really looking forward to an evening of hot takes and real talk about the ways the pandemic climate has allowed our sector to breathe in conversations about race and inequality, sit with that discomfort, and try to breathe out old, tired norms. But like change itself, this conversation, complicated and difficult, will take a longer-term vision to manifest in real time.

Being in lockdown in the site of Vunilagi Vou 2.0 – the master pivot – it has become increasingly evident how taxing this climate of producing creative and cultural content and events has been over the past 18 months. Vunilagi Vou 2.0 was built in 2020 as a safe haven from the unknowns of the world outside of our homes. The dream of this space was born out of lockdown, when life outside was on pause. It was a way to create stability when nothing else seemed secure. But when the neighbouring land was sold earlier this year (along with two other single house lots recently sold), development of six two-storey townhouses began next door and the literal stability of this pandemic oasis was disrupted; a third Vunilagi Vou shapeshift was put in motion.

Vunilagi Vou’s partnership with Celebrate Aotearoa and The Alexander Cafe has been joyful and challenging, empowering and rewarding. This third shapeshift from a commercial shop in Ōtāhuhu to a converted garage in Papatoetoe, to a mezzanine floor in an Ōtara cafe, has been in so many ways, the best version of Vunilagi Vou.

As this small organisation grows and evolves, its business plan shifts and adjusts to the time and space it finds itself in. This constant flux is an exercise of detachment and strategy, survival and renewal. This mode is largely exhilarating, but requires a level of focus and commitment that is entirely dependent, in my experience, on childcare! As a solo parent, lockdown, unfortunately, has not presented the time and space to perform resilience and resourcefulness as an independent creative entity.

Whilst most projects and commitments have been extended, pushed out and evolved, some have been necessarily axed. One of the more disappointing outcomes of this has been the cancellation of our scheduled exhibition, The Spatial Expression of Economic Inequality for Artweek Auckland and the full withdrawal from the regional programme.

The future is still so frustratingly unknown; in the short-term, it’s whether Auckland will be able to go down in alert levels to ease at least some of the region’s economic, social, spiritual, cultural and culinary frustration. In the mid-term, whether start-up businesses like The Alexander Cafe, Celebrate Aotearoa and Vunilagi Vou are able to bounce back (again) from such an economic hiding. And in the long-term, it’s whether Vunilagi Vou, an audacious idea born in a pre-pandemic time and space, is sustainable or even viable, within both South Auckland’s rapidly shifting cultural landscape, and a pandemic.

During the past 30 days however, some things have been spirit lifting

Hidden in Plain Sight curated by Julia Albrecht and Stephanie Endter closed at Frankfurt’s Weltkulturen Museum on 5 September featuring a body of work made in response to Vunilagi Vou’s 2019 exhibition, Lain Blo Yu Mi – Our People Our Lines and featuring a painting made for FATFEB (2021) which will soon be part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Sales have been trickling through from the VV Online Shop even though deliveries won’t be made until Auckland moves to Alert Level 3. Deep gratitude for these small gestures of support and investment. Vinaka vakalevu.

Work is currently in development for a deeply inspiring curatorial project led by Dr Torika Bolatagici entitled, Volume: Bodies of Knowledge. This research-based curatorial project emerges from a feminist phenomenological framework centering the lived experience of Indigenous, bla(c)k, brown, women-of-colour artists whose experiential knowledge through the body, informs their creative practice. To produce work for such a relevant and meaningful kaupapa, and to work within the realm of understanding of motherhood, is game-changing.

The lockdown re-alignment has offered an opportunity to reflect on the time and space that Vunilagi Vou’s first publication, VV:Dua was first conceived in 2020. The publication documenting Vunilagi Vou’s first year of operation was funded with support from Creative New Zealand’s Arts Continuity Grants programme and launched on Vunilagi Vou’s second anniversary in June of this year at The Alexander Cafe. The project presented steep learning curves but produced an important document about independent arts management and South Auckland. Although producing this book was a massive challenge, writing about Vunilagi Vou’s next chapter – shapeshifting and creative survival in chronic crisis – seems essential. Watch this space.

#VVxAlexander Talanoa Series – fresh takes, hot tea & industry real talk in Ōtara, #SouthAuckland

This month we launch a new series of talanoa events at Vunilagi Vou’s shared premises at The Alexander Cafe in Ōtara, South Auckland.

The series centralises the exchange of ideas, and the time and space for talking story, brokering collective understanding and building networks amongst the creative community. Four thematic approaches have been developed to draw out conversation on issues that are shaping the landscape for artists, cultural producers and arts workers currently engaged in the creative and cultural sector in Auckland and throughout Aotearoa.

The VVxAlexander Talanoa Series builds on the successful 2019 Southside Talanoa Series delivered in Ōtāhuhu in partnership with Auckland Council’s Pacific arts programme. This year’s series has been supported by Creative New Zealand’s Pacific arts programme and is proudly Moana (Pacific)-led, delivered in partnership with Moana (Pacific) and indigenous-owned and operated businesses.

The Alexander Cafe is located at 4/100 Alexander Crescent, Ōtara, South Auckland – free parking is available outside the venue and on Alexander Crescent. The venue is wheelchair accessible and light refreshments will be available.

Whilst these talanoa events will not be recorded or live streamed, a programme of in-depth conversations with select speakers from the four events will be developed as online content – more details to come.

First up…

The first of four monthly talanoa events invites three local creative producers to unpack the drivers for creating films, events and activations that benefit, make visible and serve communities they are part of.

Jep Savali (Manatua Promotions & Consultancy), Vea Mafile’o (Malosi Pictures Ltd) and Tanu Gago (FAFSWAG) will share insights and stories in conversation with Ema Tavola (Vunilagi Vou) drawing on a broad spectrum of professional experience in the fields of event production and programming, film and television, visual arts and storytelling.

The VVxAlexander Talanoa Series foregrounds arts management and leadership as an area of critical importance for the development of the Moana (Pacific) arts sector. These talanoa events are an opportunity for arts managers to share their experiences, the challenges they have overcome and offer ideas for the future for audiences of locals, artists, stakeholders and change makers. All welcome!

WHEN: Doors open 6pm, Friday 27 August
WHERE: The Alexander Cafe, 4/100 Alexander Crescent, Ōtara, South Auckland
COST: Free