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On #FATFEB

This article about Vunilagi Vou’s February 2020 programme, #FATFEB, was originally published in ARTalk (Issue 17), Fiji’s independent online art magazine edited by Peter Sipeli.


In February, Vunilagi Vou embarked on a month-long programme about radical fat positivity. What began as a dreamy idea to host a fat babe pool party, an idea pitched by local South Auckland-based artist and activist, Lissy Cole, the month of February turned into #FATFEB.

It became abundantly clear that the word ‘fat’ quickly filled a conversation with fear, loathing, conditioning, tragedy and morality. The word – three lowercase letters – the word, was intoxicatingly powerful. An underlying agenda of our programme was the unpack the word, rethink it as a descriptor and confront our own socialised attachments to what fat actually means to us.

Unintentionally, the #FATFEB programme became a mini-festival; we hosted an exhibition in our gallery, held workshops and discussion events, and at the heart, a pool party that centralised the fat body, as powerful, beautiful, valid… present.

Curating an exhibition about fat positivity felt like being exposed. The concept too personal, too embodied; for me, curating doesn’t usually feel like this. From the earliest communication with the artists, the topic and journey of fat acceptance revealed a depth of experience so rarely vocalised, and so sincerely personal. The artists made and showed work in photography and fashion, digital composition, installation, video and illustration. The exhibition spilled out of the gallery and into the arcade, shared by three other Pacific Island owned businesses, filling our environment, momentarily with fat conviction, fantasy and unapologetic fat body presence.

Fat bodies have been cast into the shadows of Eurocentric capitalist messaging and globalised conditioning, forced to hide in baggy clothes. But those in our exhibition were bodies of resistance, not ‘brave’ in the sense that fat is defined by its proximity to thinness, but courageous in their liberation.

The exhibition was confronting and mesmerising. South Auckland-based couturier Amy Lautogo of Infamy Apparel created a mini-collection catwalk show for the opening, which generated some of the most exuberant photography to come out of Vunilagi Vou, thanks to models Ria Hiroki, Tangaroa Paul, Lavina Williams and Bron Laufiso, captured by local photographers Raymond Sagapolutele and Pati Solomona Tyrell. The exhibition framed the #FATFEB programme, providing a point of discussion and focus for the workshops delivered in the adjacent VV Studio space.

The Fat Babe Pool Party, was a radiating beacon of an event. A purely non-discriminatory space, which felt visually and emotionally like an oasis. The event was always going to be deliciously chill, and our local Mount Richmond Hotel offered the perfect poolside setting for what was quite an experimental event. Lissy Cole dressed the space with a jaw-dropping technicolour feast of textiles, bunting, lanterns, sculptures and embellishments. It felt literally magical. A panel discussion with fashion blogger and artist, Meagan Kerr, fat studies scholar Dr Cat Pausé and rapper/writer/creative alchemist, Jessicoco Hansell inspired reflection and respect. They spoke truth to their experiences, their own fat politics and their rationales for speaking up / for / about fat bodies. Sitting poolside, facilitating this discussion in my size 24 leopard print bikini, I looked out at the audience, listening intensely to this conversation, and it occurred to me that we were all witnessing something pretty phenomenal.

The #FATFEB programme got more mainstream media (MSM) interest in New Zealand than most exhibitions at Vunilagi Vou. Whilst explicitly Pacific content in the arts sometimes get culturally specific media interest (mostly radio), and Pacific arts production presented in traditionally white fields like theatre often piques the interest of white audiences and thus MSM, the topic of fat brokered new ground for an arts driven event featuring exclusively Māori and Pacific creative perspectives.

Louisa Afoa with her work “Blue Clam”, photo by Raymond Sagapolutele

Interestingly, even with broad audience awareness through MSM and significant traction through social media networks, the exhibition’s visitor numbers were notably low. This felt like a very clear indication how confronting the idea of fat is. The terrain of a gallerist is to discuss and unpack the artwork and ideas of an artist, so discussions within the exhibition would often become conversations about fat phobia, discrimination and the murky space of ‘concern culture’. These interactions can and did expose deep layers of fat phobic conditioning, the very layers that are defused by the concept of fat positivity. These were not easy conversations to hold!

Visitor numbers aside, the audience who were impacted the most throughout #FATFEB was our fat community, particularly women. There was a profound sense of validation in foregrounding the representation of the fat body and its unapologetic politics. It was a month of being seen, being heard and being respected. But it became clearer and clearer throughout February, how rare this is on a day-to-day basis.

February left me on a high. To make exhibitions that can affect the change I want to see in society, is the highest reward. The exhibition was unique, a point in time snapshot produced collectively be nine excellent creatives. Creating space to have hard conversations is not an easy road, but I commend everyone who ventured into this territory.

If Vunilagi Vou survives 2020, #FATFEB is most definitely on the cards for February 2021!


Other media coverage of #FATFEB:

support artists / support Vunilagi Vou

As Vunilagi Vou transitions to a new shape and form, every dollar that supports the costs of shifting the location of the Gallery from Ōtāhuhu to Papatoetoe in order to re-open in October, is highly appreciated! Whilst we will be downsizing the retail offerings in the new site, we still have artwork in the storeroom available for purchase.

Our December 2019 exhibition, Finding Emory: A Poster Show, invited eight local artists to develop a new work inspired by the iconic aesthetic of Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. From the controversial trial of armed Police response units in South Auckland to the ongoing indoctrination of imposed body / faith politics, these seven artworks speak directly to shifts and changes that affected the lives of indigenous people in the South Pacific / Moana Oceania in 2019.

The artworks by Cypris Afakasi, Tanu Gago, Leilani Kake, Sean Kerrigan, Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho & Rebecca Ann Hobbs, Siliga David Setoga and Tokerau Wilson were produced as editions of 10, measuring 42×59.4cm (A2 size) and printed on DuraPrint, a robust plastic-coated paper. Posters are signed, unframed and priced at NZ$200 each + $15 postage and handling within New Zealand. 

“MY ANCESTORS BURNT CHURCHES – A STORY OF OPPRESSION & REBELLION” (2019) by Tokerau Wilson 
“Woman of Colour” (2019) by Leilani Kake
“Ministry of Culture?” (2019) by Sean Kerrigan
“All ears” (2019) by Huriana Kopeke Te Aho & Rebecca Ann Hobbs
“Mother Vaka” (2019) by Siliga David Setoga
“EYED-ENTITY” (2019) by Cypris Afakasi
“DEAD IN THE STREETS” (2019) by Tanu Gago

For more information on artworks and artists, please send us an enquiry here:

On shapeshifting

I didn’t know when I locked up the gallery on Thursday 19th March that it would be the last day of business at our Ōtāhuhu premises. Things change quickly in a global pandemic and the gallery was and remains to be shut under New Zealand’s lockdown restrictions.

I took the opportunity to negotiate the end of the commercial leases on the three shops at 256 Great South Road that we have occupied since opening in May 2019. As of last week, we began the process of packing up and moving on from this premises.

Our last exhibition, Safe as Houses, featured stunning new work by Marcus Hipa, Craig Horne and Metiria Turei. Although we had a wonderful exhibition opening in early March, it was and is so sad to have had to close this exhibition prematurely.

This was a particularly rewarding show to co-curate with Leilani Kake for Auckland Arts Festival. Early support from the Festival enabled us to refine a concept befitting of the exposure it afforded us, and work with a group of creatives who produced poignant new work.

We will re-open an exhibitions space in October 2020, but as the end of Vunilagi Vou’s first chapter, and first iteration in the South Auckland suburb of Ōtāhuhu, it’s a bittersweet farewell.

The dynamic of Vunilagi Vou has been shapeshifting over the past weeks. Consultancy work and writing are becoming a higher priority, and an online store is in development. The new site for the gallery is a conscious move in a more sustainable direction.

The next iteration of Vunilagi Vou will take 4-5 months to realise and another journey has begun with Ōtara-based artist and builder, Sean Kerrigan. We’re aiming to open Vunilagi Vou 2.0 on October 10th, Fiji Day.

Trading in the commercial context for a suburban setting changes the dynamics of this venture. Our social gathering protocols will shift and change in the coming months, so being close to where the home fire burns is ideal. Vunilagi Vou 2.0 will operate on an appointment-only basis, streaming events and gatherings, activations and exhibition tours online.

The 10th exhibition at Vunilagi Vou’s Ōtāhuhu premises was to be my third solo exhibition; a meditation on the work of an arts manager. It was scheduled to coincide with the launch of our Creative New Zealand-funded Pacific Arts Management Residency programme, and open on April 7th to welcome the first Arts Manager in Residence, Fiji-based Peter Sipeli, coming to us direct from Hong Kong where he was Artist-in-Residence at Para Site from February to April.

The available works on paper made for this show will go into our online store in the coming months. The work surrounding the residency with Peter had already begun when the global pandemic happened. He had to return to Suva, Fiji and talks have been underway throughout lockdown to produce a series of online collaborations to map a virtual realisation of what the residency promised to deliver. With an extension granted on this funded project, there is still potential to bring Peter to South Auckland, so here’s hoping for 2021.

In the meantime, we are moving online for the winter months, and re-emerging in the Spring with a new physical site. Keep up to date with developments on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch and sign up for website updates because the email database, has finally moved up the priority list!

#FATFEB – A season of radical fat positivity!

February is dedicated to FAT at Vunilagi Vou! We’re unpacking the word, the stigma, celebrating fat body experience and calling out fat phobia in all its forms! We’re hosting a massive programme around our first exhibition for 2020 entitled, FAT, including a new series of body positivity workshops supported by Auckland’s Creative Communities Scheme, and producing an exciting signature event with local artist and fat activist, Lissy Cole, in the form of the Fat Babe Pool Party!

Get amongst Vunilagi Vou’s season of radical fat positivity!

 Exhibition

FAT  curated by Ema Tavola

Featuring Louisa Afoa, Riki Tipu Anderson, Lissy Cole, Jessicoco Hansell, Infamy Apparel, Meagan Kerr and Elyssia Wilson-Heti
Opening Night: 6 – 8pm, Tuesday 4 February
Exhibition Dates: 5 – 29 February 2020

 Workshops

Writing the Fat Experience

Free, registration recommended
Facilitated by Elyssia Wilson-Heti
6 – 8pm, Saturday 8 February
Vunilagi Vou Arcade

Drawing the Fat Body

Free, registration essential
Facilitated by Leilani Kake
6 – 8pm, Saturday 22 February
Vunilagi Vou Studio

Contact hello@vunilagivou.com to register for workshops

   Party

FAT BABE POOL PARTY

Tickets (Presales only) $50
3 – 8pm, Saturday 15 February
Including panel discussion featuring:
❤ Meagan Kerr aka This is Meagan Kerr
❤ Jessicoco Hansell aka Kuini Qontrol aka COCO SOLID
❤ Dr Cat Pausé aka Friend of Marilyn
Mount Richmond Hotel, 676 Mt Wellington Highway, Ōtāhuhu

❤ Contact fatbabepoolparty@gmail.com for ticketing information
❤ Proudly supported by Auckland Council as part of the Pacific Arts Programme

 Dialogue

#RealTalk: Fat Reflections Talanoa

Free, all welcome
Facilitated by Lissy Cole & Ema Tavola
4 – 6pm, Saturday 29 February
Lissy Cole Designs HQ, 168 Avenue Road East, Ōtāhuhu

Keep up to date on Vunilagi Vou events and activities across social media!

#FATFEB has received support from

Enquiries

2019 – Gratitude + Big Plans!

What a year!

As we approach the end of 2019, our team has been reflecting, strategising and planning for an even bigger and superbly ambitious 2020!

Having opened in May 2019, we are proud to have:

  • Produced 7 independent exhibitions featuring new and recent work by over 30 artists
  • Sold an average of one third of every exhibition
  • Delivered 3 awesome dialogue events in the form of the Southside Talanoa Series at 3 different Ōtāhuhu locations
  • Spoken about Vunilagi Vou at conferences, festivals and symposia in Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong
  • Secured funding for programming from Creative New Zealand, The Arts Foundation, Auckland Council’s Pacific Arts programme, Māngere Ōtāhuhu Arts (Māngere Ōtāhuhu Local Board) and the Creative Communities Scheme.
  • Delivered 11 workshops in the new Vunilagi Vou Studio with 18 more planned for the first half of 2020
  • Enjoyed coverage and reviews from mainstream and Pacific media platforms, which can be found on our Media page
  • Collaborated and invested in local and Pacific businesses to deliver events, including Malosi Pictures Ltd, 37Hz Ltd, SAY Money Transfer, FranCharLeni Diner & Café, Kingdom Design, Star Hotel, Ōtāhuhu Rovers Rugby League Club, Ōtāhuhu Māngere Youth Group (OMYG) and CMYK Signs & Digital Printing Ltd, East Tamaki
  • And put literally thousands of dollars in the pockets of Māori and Pacific makers through the Vunilagi Vou shop!

We are incredibly grateful for the support we’ve received in 2019; every share, like, retweet, every visit and every endorsement we’ve received has helped us deliver a bumper programme and invested significantly in our local creative ecology.

Our exhibitions and workshops programme has been enriched by the vision and support from Māngere Ōtāhuhu Arts, the arm of Māngere Ōtāhuhu Local Board (Auckland Council) that invests in the arts ecology of our local area. We’re grateful that our Local Board has put a value on the creative potential of our communities, and excited to continue this work into 2020.

Our current exhibition, Finding Emory: A Poster Show runs until 25 January and features limited edition posters by Cypris Afakasi, Tanu Gago, Leilani Kake, Sean Kerrigan, Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho and Rebecca Ann Hobbs, Siliga David Setoga and Tokerau Wilson. Our usual business hours resume from Wednesday 8 January.

Throughout the year, we have relied heavily on our social media channels to communicate our programme and announcements but recognise this isn’t ideal for some of our audiences. In 2020, we endeavour to get our mailing list fully functioning and look forward to connecting with those who don’t use social media on the daily!

So, as the year winds to a close, we recognise and pay respect to our artist community – we couldn’t do any of this without you. To our 30+ exhibitors, and to our wonderful network of suppliers who have stocked our shop full to the brim with wonderful products, titles and small works – thank you so, so much. Thank you for trusting us with your work and ideas, and for allowing us to share them with the world.

Our 2020 programme is massive. We have a mix of monthly and two-monthly exhibitions, residencies and workshops galore. In two weeks we’ll be announcing our February programme, which is a deep dive into the word fat and we’re building up to a really special exhibition in March for the Auckland Arts Festival. It’s all go!

Wishing you all love and light for the festive season from warm and balmy South Auckland!

vinaka vakalevu

Finding Emory – A Poster Show

By chance, seven signed Emory Douglas prints found their way to Vunilagi Vou last month and inspired our last exhibition for 2019!

Emory Douglas’ iconic aesthetic and important contribution to the art of revolution has been a starting point for eight Auckland-based artists who have been invited to create a poster about an issue that has moved their heads and hearts in 2019. From arming South Auckland’s Police, to re-criminalising homosexuality in the Cook Islands, seven new works speak directly to the shifts and changes that affect the lives of indigenous people in the South Pacific / Moana Oceania.

The limited edition poster prints will be for sale and hung alongside Emory’s work in an exhibition that packs a powerful political punch.

Finding Emory – A Poster Show features new work by Cypris Afakasi, Tanu Gago, Leilani Kake, Sean Kerrigan, Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho & Rebecca Hobbs, Siliga David Setoga and Tokerau Wilson.

Vunilagi Vou’s latest poster (above) designed by Director – Curator, Ema Tavola, is also for sale along with new stock from the Marshall Islands, Eastern Highlands in Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

Finding Emory – A Poster Show

Featuring Cypris Afakasi, Tanu Gago, Leilani Kake, Sean Kerrigan, Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho & Rebecca Hobbs, Siliga David Setoga and Tokerau Wilson.
Opening 6-8pm, Tuesday 3 December
Exhibition Dates 4 December 2019 – 25 January 2020


Enquiries

October was a whirlwind!

Aroha mai – updates have been sluggish this past month because our programme has been wild! 

Vunilagi Vou hosted a beautiful mini survey show of Auckland-based collective, FAFSWAG in October. The exhibition featured a series of video works alongside artist proofs and limited edition digital prints made by members past and present. With many of FAFSWAG’s artists connected to and resident in the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu area, it was great to reflect on the important contribution FAFSWAG has made to the New Zealand art world (and beyond) and celebrate their South Auckland roots.

FAFSWAG 6 opened on October 1, in the middle of the collective’s production, Reclamation which went on to deliver an impressive 13-show season at Auckland’s Basement Theatre.

FAFSWAG 6 was produced with support from Māngere Ōtāhuhu Arts, an initiative to manage investment in the creative ecology of the area by Māngere Ōtāhuhu Local Board of Auckland Council.

Māngere Ōtāhuhu Arts funding has also enabled the creation of the Vunilagi Vou Studio, a workshop and gathering space located in the adjacent shop from the Gallery. Vunilagi Vou Studio is programmed to host workshops from October 2019 to March 2020. The first official gathering in the space was delivered in mid-October: Te Reo Toi Toko is a monthly opportunity for te reo Māori speakers and learners to use exhibitions to start conversations and broaden vocabulary. The workshop series was initiated by local artist, Leilani Kake, who has been studying te reo Māori full-time this year and discovered a need for language learners to practice and build supportive relationships with other language speakers and learners in the local community.

October also saw a new event series launched: Vunilagi Vou Arcade Talks. Our first event was held on October 7 with visiting London-based, Fijian-New Zealand visual artist, Luke Willis Thompson.

The event was an opportunity to hear Luke Willis Thompson discuss some of the issues that have surrounded his art practice recently, particular in light of his work nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize (2018). For those in attendance, Luke offered a rare first-hand account of his contexts and drivers, his connections and challenges.

For the night of the first Vunilagi Vou Arcade Talk, we screened Luke’s work in the window of our neighbouring business, Pasifika Barbers, a Fiji-owned business that has been in Ōtāhuhu for 25 years. The promotional graphics for this event were created by artist, Nicole Lim.

Vunilagi Vou Director-Curator, Ema Tavola delivered two international talks in October; first at the 2019 Para Site International Conference in Hong Kong, and second as part of the Tarnanthi Festival in Adelaide, South Australia, hosted by ACE Open and Guildhouse. The talks took place on two consecutive weekends, on two continents, and involved seven flights in 14 days! Read a great overview of the Para Site Conference here.

Ema was also invited to speak on a panel discussion at Auckland Art Gallery for Art After Hours inspired by the exhibition, “Guerilla Girls Re-inventing the ‘F’ Word – Feminism!” and later had the opportunity to introduce visiting Guerilla Girl, ‘Frida Kahlo’ to Vunilagi Vou, Ōtāhuhu and FAFSWAG. Plans and ideas for future collaborations were excitedly spoken to life!

On the last weekend of October, we hosted the final Southside Talanoa Series event at Ōtāhuhu’s iconic Star Hotel. The Southside Quiz Night centralised South Auckland and Pacific knowledge systems and flipped the script on traditional New Zealand quiz nights! The Southside Talanoa Series was supported by Auckland Council as part of the Pacific Arts programme.

Podcasts of the Southside Talanoa Series events were produced by Matthew Salapu (Anonymouz) and can be found here.

To close the FAFSWAG 6 exhibition, we hosted our first official Crit Club in the Vunilagi Vou Studio. Crit Club was developed to create space for local artists to engage in critical feedback about their work, to hone their practices and speak about their thinking.

In October’s Crit Club, Leilani Kake presented her latest work, Toka Te Reo, opening the floor for discussion. Whilst the intention was to move over to the Gallery to discuss the FAFSWAG 6 exhibition, the MMT (Mate Ma’a Tonga, the national rugby league team of Tonga) celebrations were so joyous and LOUD, we were drowned out! Crit Club is such a brave space; many thanks to those who came out to participate.

November is another month full of workshops at Vunilagi Vou – the best way to keep in up to date on exhibitions, events and talks is via Facebook and Instagram, but for those who live that Social Media Free life, we promise we’ll get our e-mail newsletter started soon!

We also adjusted our Gallery opening hours in October and are now open:

Wednesday – Thursday: 10am – 5pm
Friday: 10am – 6pm
Saturday: 11am – 4pm
Closed: Sunday / Monday / Tuesday

We’re grateful for all the support that has helped us get through a mega month of programming; to family, friends, gallery-goers, social media networks and funders – vinaka vakalevu – thank you so much!


Vunilagi Vou event photography is by Andre Kake-Joseph.

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!

Dissecting Diversity in the Southside

We held the first of the Southside Talanoa Series events last month in Ōtāhuhu, a series of events Vunilagi Vou is producing with support from Auckland Council as part of the Pacific Arts Programme.

The panellists were facilitated by Yolande Ah Chong in a discussion around the complexities of working in the ‘diversity space’, sharing insights from both within and outside of the arts and cultural industries.

The open forum enabled audiences to pose questions, make commentary and further dissect the idea of diversity from functional, philosophical and realistic angles. The full talanoa has been recorded by noted South Auckland-based sound artist and producer, Faiumu Matthew Salapu aka Anonymouz; the podcast will be available in the coming weeks.

The panel sat on mats and ngatu kindly lent from local artists Leilani Kake, Vea Mafile’o and Czarina Wilson, beneath a crocheted artwork produced for the Crochet You Stay project by Lissy Cole in collaboration with Leilani Kake with funding from the Creative New Zealand Suffrage 125 fund.

The event was a success and we are hugely grateful to this excellent panel. We were particularly excited to have Guled Mire in this space; he added tremendous value and helped us broker new territory for Pacific arts discourse in Aotearoa. Vinaka vakalevu!

The Southside Talanoa Series rolls out another event this month, For My Father’s Kingdom: For The Community, a free public screening of the new documentary film, For My Father’s Kingdom directed by Papatoetoe-based filmmakers, Vea Mafile’o and Jeremiah Tauamiti, followed by a panel discussion with Siniva Vaitohi (SAY Money Transfer) and Sarah McRobie (counselling specialist) in conversation with Vea Mafile’o.

This event is family friendly and open to the public; doors open at 3.30pm on Saturday 21 September at the Ōtāhuhu Leopards Rugby League Clubrooms in Bert Henham Park, 645 Great South Road, Ōtāhuhu.

For more information about the Southside Talanoa Series, get in touch here: