VV x Alexander: Shapeshifting, new exhibitions and Ōtara

In June 2021, Vunilagi Vou will celebrate our second anniversary and shapeshift once again to operate from The Alexander Café, a new locally-owned eatery and cultural enterprise located on Alexander Crescent in Ōtara, South Auckland.

Having operated Vunilagi Vou 2.0 from the residential context of suburban Papatoetoe since October 2020, the opportunity arose to partner with The Alexander Café and create space for another local enterprise, Celebrate Aotearoa – a retail operation driven by local Tongan creative entrepreneur, Czarina Wilson.

Located in a refurbished semi-industrial warehouse, The Alexander Café has built a strong community and customer base from around the Auckland region; it is a hub of Māori and Pacific professionals, locals, gym goers and creatives, always abuzz with talanoa. For Vunilagi Vou, the café offers an opportunity to integrate excellent art into the South Auckland space, quietly informing our lives and discussions and enabling artwork to create interventions in the public consciousness, rather than asking the public to engage with arts environments.

Local Tongan creative entrepreneur, Czarina Wilson, has been part of the Vunilagi Vou mission since the beginning, offering retail guidance for our first premises in Ōtāhuhu, and partnering on a pop-up shop at the Ōtara Kai Village in September to raise funds for Vunilagi Vou’s post-Covid re-launch. Czarina has been operating her enterprise, Celebrate Aotearoa out of the Ōtara Kai Village Boutique since October 2020 and is excited to relocate just a stones throw away to The Alexander Café to partner with Vunilagi Vou once more!

From Saturday 12 June 2021, The Alexander Café’s mezzanine floor will house both Celebrate Aotearoa and the Vunilagi Vou office, and a suite of three new exhibitions will be on show throughout the building.

Video still from Put Some Respect On My Name interview with Samson Vaotu’ua; animation still by India Taberner

Put Some Respect on My Name is an exhibition project by Papatoetoe-based Sāmoan filmmaker Jeremiah Tauamiti (Malosi Pictures) produced with support from Creative New Zealand. At the centre of the work are nine individual stories exploring the meaning and mana of Pacific Island surnames, and the importance of correct pronunciation as an act of respect. The project incorporates interviews with Elizabeth Koroivulaono, Tanya Muagututi’a, Vela Manusaute, Te Amohaere Ngata-aerengamate, Raymond Sagapolutele, Benjamin Tamanikaiyaroi, Ema Tavola, Essendon Tu’itupou and Samson Vaotu’ua. The project also incorporates animation work by India Taberner and graphic design by Antonio Filipo.

Becoming is a body of recent work by Peatree, a mixed media artist currently based in Melbourne, Australia where they work predominantly across the mediums of illustration and sculpture. Completing undergraduate studies at Manukau School of Visual Arts in Ōtara in 2005, Peatree’s practice has absorbed influences from around the world informing their own evolving positionality in relation to gender, ethnicity and sexuality. Becoming is an exhibition of small paintings exploring the artist’s constantly evolving sense of self and commitment to “the inherent existential search”.

Killer of a Time is a body of work by Manurewa-based Tongan photographer Emily Mafile’o made in 2013/14. This body of work is part of the artist’s two decade-long documentary practice exploring the diversity of Tongan lives and experience in Aotearoa and Tonga. This vérité style sepia-toned series focuses on ‘Killer’, whose life at the time was deeply embedded in gang culture; it is an intimate observation of the freedoms, ties and violence that framed his life, woven together with glimpses of anga fakatonga (Tongan way). This work presents a challenging perspective of Tongan experience but actively broadens awareness of the ways Tongan identities evolve and adapt in response their environments.

All three exhibitions are open from Saturday 12 June and run until the end of July.

VV x Alexander is the beginning of a new chapter. A return to Ōtara, a cultural hotspot for Moana Oceania creative innovation, where Vunilagi Vou Curator-Director, Ema Tavola established her practice at Manukau School of Visual Arts and later as founding manager of Fresh Gallery Ōtara. As the third ‘re-birth’ of Vunilagi Vou, it is an evolved business model, shapeshifting from a commercial premise in Ōtāhuhu, to a residential setting in Papatoetoe, to a shared entrepreneurial hub in Ōtara. Third time lucky?!

Help us celebrate the launch of VV x Alexander

Come along and celebrate The Alexander Cafe’s newest tenants, Vunilagi Vou and Celebrate Aotearoa, and the opening of three exciting exhibitions, Put Some Respect On My Name, Becoming and Killer of a Time on Friday 11 June from 6pm.

We’re also launching Vunilagi Vou’s first publication, VV:Dua The Story of Vunilagi Vou’s First Year, produced with support from Creative New Zealand. Copies will be available on the night and later stocked at Celebrate Aotearoa!

The Alexander Café is located at 4/100 Alexander Crescent, Ōtara, South Auckland; it is 5 minute drive from the Highbrook Drive or East Tamaki Road exits on State Highway 1 or a short walk from the Ōtara Bus Interchange (notably featuring design work by Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi).

The Alexander Café ground floor is wheelchair accessible with disability carparks directly outside the main entrance, the venue also has a wheelchair accessible toilet. Assistance dogs are also allowed onsite.

After the VV x Alexander launch, opening hours are as follows:

Monday – Friday: 7am – 3pm
Saturday: 8am – 2pm

Appointments can still be made to view and discuss the artwork on show, get in touch via the Appointments page here.


Follow Vunilagi Vou on Instagram for the latest updates!

Good shows, good reads, yoga and meditation in #SouthAuckland

We opened two water shows last week in South Auckland, celebrating the opening of both exhibitions at Vunilagi Vou. Both exhibitors, David Garcia and Antonio Filipo, shared insights to their practices, and both exhibitions are now open until 12 May 2021.

Two talanoa events are in the pipeline for two water shows, reflecting the kaupapa and contexts of each exhibition. More information coming soon!

Good reads

Last weekend, I had the privilege of featuring on e-Tangata – Aotearoa’s excellent Māori and Pacific Sunday digital magazine. Read the full story here for some background and context of Vunilagi Vou. Vinaka vakalevu to the whole team for this work, especially photographer Cornell Tukiri.

Some excellent writing has been published as part of the Creative New Zealand Pacific Arts Legacy Project on Pantograph Punch. FAFSWAG co-founder, Tanu Gago’s recent essay was particularly excellent – check it out here.

Another good read was this article by Leonie Hayden for The SpinOff detailing Auckland Art Gallery’s current challenges in creating a culturally safe space for employees. This article follows news of former Curator Māori, Nigel Borell leaving the role citing systemic racism and differing views on power-sharing.

The VV Stock Room collection that was up at Ōtara’s The Alexander Cafe from February to March 2021 was featured in Pantograph Punch’s Unmissables offering a fresh perspective on FAFSWAG artist, Moe Laga’s 2014 series, Feau o Fafine. This work, Smoko Break was shot in what is now Vunilagi Vou, pre makeover! Check out writer, Tulia Thompson’s review here.

Yoga & Meditation at Vunilagi Vou

Last week we started offering two weekly yoga and meditation classes with South Auckland-based instructor, Gamo Farani Tomlin. The classes are limited to eight participants and aim to make yoga and meditation accessible to local South Auckland communities. David Garcia’s solo exhibition, big islands deep oceans is an ideal creative setting for these classes!

Booking is essential; send Gamo a message via Instagram or text message: 021 1001448. Classes are at 5.30pm on Mondays and 10.30am on Wednesdays. All abilities welcome!

Writing VV:Dua

A Creative New Zealand funded project that started in 2020, mid-pandemic, was the development of a publication about Vunilagi Vou’s first year of operation – VV:Duadua being ‘one’ in Fijian. The work started, and then stopped, the project was granted an extension, and then stalled again. Keeping Vunilagi Vou alive became the priority that took energy away from writing, but finally, the end is in sight.

Crit Club, December 2019, Vunilagi Vou Studio, Ōtāhuhu, South Auckland | Photo by Andre Kake-Joseph

This small publication will be launched on June 10, marking Vunilagi Vou’s second anniversary. It includes summaries of the frankly outrageous amount of work, projects, workshops and events that Vunilagi Vou delivered in its first nine months, and the impact the global pandemic had in shapeshifting not only the location, but the whole ethos of the business.

Grateful for the understanding of Pacific Arts funding advisors; this past year has had incredible highs and lows, but the investment from Creative New Zealand’s Arts Continuity Grant programme helped provide some much needed stability.

Watch this space!

Water + focus

Two new exhibitions are opening next week – one at Vunilagi Vou, and one at The Alexander Cafe in Otara. Located less than three kilometres apart, the two sites are hosting twin solo exhibitions by local artist Antonio Filipo and Christchurch-based mapmaker, David Garcia.

Coined as two water shows, the joint solos both depict personal relationships with water. David Garcia’s stunning maps show us the world below the Pacific Ocean, a landscape of mountains and ravines, gullies and deep trenches. Their consciously decolonising approach to mapmaking represents a challenge to the power inherent in creating man-made boundaries and territories, and the role of mapping within the forces of imperialism.

Ōtara-based artist Antonio Filipo is a graduate of Manukau School of Visual Arts and has remained connected to its site where his family home backs on to Ngāti Ōtara Park, the largest public park in Ōtara. Antonio started making aerial photography in and around Ngāti Ōtara Park in 2017 and grew a fast appreciation for the beauty of the landscape from a bird eye view, tracking the waterways from the creek behind his home to the Ōtara Lake and on to the Tāmaki Estuary.

From David Garcia’s work in big islands deep oceans and Antonio Filipo’s exhibition, Ngāti Ōtara, we are offered an opportunity to adjust our perspectives from the seafloor to the skies above and consider our lives as what lies between them, wholly dependent and surrounded by water.

Both exhibitions run from 29 March – 12 May 2021 and have been produced with support from Vunilagi Vou’s 2020 BoostedxMoana crowdfunding campaign – much gratitude to our 118 wonderful donors who have made these exhibitions possible.

Viewing big islands deep oceans by David Garcia at Vunilagi Vou is via appointment only, and Ngāti Ōtara by Antonio Filipo is viewable during The Alexander Cafe’s business hours: Monday – Friday, 7am-3pm and Saturdays, 8am-2pm. The cafe is located at 4/100 Alexander Crescent, Ōtara.

Both exhibitions will open with a Private View / Opening Reception at Vunilagi Vou on Monday 29 March at 6pm.

Next week, we also launch a new programme of Yoga & Meditation classes with South Auckland-based Sāmoan yoga and meditation teacher, Gamo Farani Tomlin. Classes have been programmed to encourage participation from local Māori and Pacific communities, particularly mums, stressed out artists and freelancers, and anyone who wants to take small steps towards being better, sharper, more flexible and connected.

This new programme starts on Wednesday 31 March with classes delivered on a weekly basis at:

  • 5.30pm on Mondays
  • 10.30am on Wednesdays

With a limited class size, booking is essential via texting Gamo on 021 1001448. Participants need to bring their own yoga or exercise mat, towel and water bottle and each class costs just $5.

The first three months of 2021 have been a great quarter for art sales – grateful to our buyers whose purchases have actively invested into the practices of Māori and Pacific artists. So much of the work sold at Vunilagi Vou goes into South Auckland-based collections and Māori and Pacific homes, which means the value of this work keeps circulating and benefiting our lives and communities.

Our VV Online Shop has been busy too – more products are added all the time and it’s great to see new appreciation for products we held and loved selling at our Ōtāhuhu site.

As always, Instagram and Twitter are the bulletin board for Vunilagi Vou activity – check out the ebbs and flows of Vunilagi Vou through artists, connections and archives of Moana Oceania art history in Manukau City / South Auckland.

vinaka vakalevu

Kava + Hustle: Updates from the South

This is a long overdue update!

As we shift and flex to the constant unknowns of our pandemic reality, Vunilagi Vou continues to adapt and evolve in its new environs here in Papatoetoe, Manukau City / South Auckland.

Collectors and collections in South Auckland

Our VV Stock Room sale was an excellent way to close 2020, selling a number of works that had been part of Vunilagi Vou exhibitions since opening in 2019. In early 2021, we found a new location for the ever-expanding ‘stock room’ collection in the new cafe and social enterprise, The Alexander Cafe in Ōtara, South Auckland.

The Alexander Cafe has offered locals a space for meetings, healthy kai, talanoa and now an opportunity to enjoy works by local artists, largely made in and about the South Auckland environment and social landscape. Located in a semi-industrial site, filled with natural light and centrally located a stone’s throw from the Ōtara Town Centre, the high stud and crisp white walls offer an exciting opportunity for artwork to be seen and appreciated by largely local audiences. As such, a series of exhibitions is in the pipeline, to activate the space and create a dialogue between Vunilagi Vou’s exhibition programme and the more public setting of the cafe.

The first exhibition pairing between The Alexander Cafe and Vunilagi Vou is two bodies of work by David Garcia, an Ōtautahi-based doctoral student and cartographer committed to decolonising map making, and Antonio Filipo, an Ōtara-based former student of Manukau School of Visual Arts now honing his skills in aerial drone photography. The exhibitions are due to open at the end of March, Covid-pending!

The Alexander Cafe has already proven to be an exciting site to move more locally produced work into local collections, one of Vunilagi Vou’s driving principles.

Features + Research

Late last year, we enjoyed being part of the new look and feel Metro magazine in an article written with care and nuance by Lana Lopesi profiling both Vunilagi Vou and Avondale-based creative enterprise, Moana Fresh. It was also a privilege to be mentioned in Rosabel Tan’s excellent overview of the health of the local creative economy in the age of coronovirus. Tan’s article for Metro entitled, Flip the Switch was a refined version of a larger piece of research commissioned by Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi, which can be read here.

Tū Tonu: a community of Southside practice

In December, Vunilagi Vou invited a group of South Auckland-based arts managers, curators and advocates together to break bread and reflect on year of significant change. Whilst all living in and significantly connected to the South Auckland area, everyone present represented an emerging community of qualified arts professionals who have exited mainstream arts and cultural institutions where they had been heavily involved in strategic social inclusion and high quality community engagement-driven programming.

A decision was made at this gathering to form a collective called Tū Tonu, to channel collective skills and institutional knowledge back into the South Auckland creative ecology to promote investment and generate more arts and culture activity driven by and for our local communities. Including Nigel Borell, Tanu Gago (FAFSWAG), Leilani Kake, Iokapeta Magele-Suamasi, Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai and Toluma’anave Barbara Makuati-Afitu (Lagi-Maama Academy and Consultancy), Jep Savali (Manatua) and Ema Tavola (Vunilagi Vou), Tū Tonu is committed to meeting regularly to offer collective support, critique, knowledge and network sharing.

This badge was produced to show solidarity for curator Nigel Borell when he chose to resign from his senior curatorial role at Auckland Art Gallery at the end of 2020 after producing the landmark exhibition, Toi Tū Toi Ora. Proceeds from the sale of these badges go towards the work of Tū Tonu; buy one here!

In February, some members of Tū Tonu participated in a Zoom hui with ruangrupa, a Jakarta-based interdisciplinary arts collective represented by member, Farid Rakun. The conversation was facilitated by Artspace Aotearoa as part of The Drift-Kōrewa: ruangrupa Podcast Series. Listen here:

Exhibitions, revisions and gratitude

Our Vunilagi Vou 2021 programme has been supported in large part by a crowdfunding effort via Boosted late last year. To 118 generous donors, and everyone who helped amplify and share the campaign – thank you so, so much. Our first exhibition this year, Pussy Fat, was part of the FATFEB programme and whilst it encountered a few revisions in the artist line-up, it has ended up being a sweet joint show.

Kava + Hustle

A new development for Vunilagi Vou has been the importation of premium grade Fijian kava, a high quality organic product and significant ingredient in the act and practice of talanoa, an event format and approach that has been increasingly part of Vunilagi Vou’s programme.

Whilst the traditional communal practice of drinking kava needs certain revisions in the age of coronavirus, the effects and benefits are unchanged. With mildly hallucinogenic qualities, kava is said to have a similar effect on the brain as alcohol, promoting calm, relaxation and reflection. Outside of the Pacific region where it is used in both ceremonial and informal settings, kava or Piper methysticum has been researched as a natural stress-reliever, reducing anxiety and even relieving pain.

Importing Fijian kava also reflects a concerted effort to support Fiji’s economy which has been severely impacted from the global recession bought on by the pandemic.

We are developing some resources to guide first-time kava drinkers to mix and reflect on the protocols of drinking kava in Fijian contexts, but there are also excellent sources available online. Check out the two varieties we currently stock from the regions of Saqani in the north of Fiji, and Kadavu in the south here.

Kava is one of a small range of products now available via our Vunilagi Vou online shop, one way to keep this creative enterprise ticking when lockdowns create frustrating pauses in activity. The shop represents a curated collection of limited edition and hard-to-find art products that made up much of our retail range when the commercial premises of Vunilagi Vou in Ōtāhuhu was closed last year. Although limited to New Zealand shipping options at the moment, it is envisioned that international shipping will be possible in the near future.

Apologies for a long break in updates! More coming soon!

#VVStockRoom sale

Our second exhibition at Vunilagi Vou 2.0 will open on Monday 30 November, the first of a new exhibition programming approach aligning with the lunar calendar.

The exhibition features predominantly work from Vunilagi Vou’s programme since opening in May 2019, with some additional works contributed by local artists. There are 40 works on show in the mediums of painting, photography, print, illustration and readymades.

Artists include: Cypris Afakasi, Tanu Gago, Julia Mage’au Gray, Jessicoco Hansell, Todd Henry, Leilani Kake, Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho & Rebecca Ann Hobbs, Moe Laga, Amy Lautogo, Niutuiatua Lemalu, Nicole Lim, Johanna Van Massop, Qiane Matata-Sipu, Genevieve Pini, Ema Tavola, ‘Ahota’e’iloa Toetu’u, Pati Solomona Tyrell, Faleata Ualesi, Manuha’apai Vaeatangitau and Tokerau Wilson.

The exhibition opening is invitation only, get in touch if you’d like to come along. Eftpos and AfterPay will be available on the night. Alternatively, book an appointment for a viewing from 1-21 December 2020.

Talking the talk

We’ve had a busy first month operating Vunilagi Vou 2.0 in its new setting. Appointments have been fairly regular, allowing visitors to spend time absorbing the ideas behind the exhibition and learning about the space. The current show, Fofola Koloa – Unfolding my Koloa ends on 21 November and Vunilagi Vou’s 11th exhibition, a stock room sale, will open on a new schedule, in time with the full moon.

The past month has been a busy time for press with much interest being generated through our primary platform, Instagram and the documentation of Vunilagi Vou 2.0’s journey from idea to manifestation through the hashtag, #VunilagiVou2_0.

This article was originally written for Auckland arts organisation, Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi and later published on The Big Idea on 8 October 2020, about Vunilagi Vou’s Covid pivot:

This interview with Eteuati Ete for Radio 531pi aired on 12 October 2020:

This long-form discussion for the Thought Plantation Podcast, aired on 19 October 2020, and covers a broad enquiry about the journey towards opening Vunilagi Vou. Giovanni Lolohea is a psychiatric nurse by day, and a passionate podcaster by night!

This commissioned text was written for the Pacific Arts Legacy Project, an initiative of Creative New Zealand, and published on Pantograph Punch on 6 November 2020. Whilst it is not directly about Vunilagi Vou, it is about the cultural context that inspired this gallery, and the environment that birthed Fresh Gallery Ōtara.

This article by Fijian journalist Torika Tokalau was written for Stuff and published on 9 November 2020 featuring a short video shot by David White. Whilst this story revolved around Vunilagi Vou as an individual effort, the core role of artist and builder Sean Kerrigan regrettably was not mentioned here, and should have been; he played an incredibly important role in bringing Vunilagi Vou 2.0 to life.

And finally, it is a huge privilege to be profiled as part of NUKU, a project driven by Ihumātao-based writer and photographer, Qiane Matata-Sipu, profiling indigenous women doing kickass things! Read more and listen to the accompanying podcast here.

Although published well before we opened Vunilagi Vou 2.0, this commissioned text published by Enjoy Contemporary Art Space in Wellington documents the process of shapeshifting Vunilagi Vou’s site and ethos as a result of the global pandemic. As this space grows and evolves, the moment in time captured in this essay feels like an increasingly significant part of our art history.

Edited by Sophie Davis, Simon Gennard with design by Katie Kerr

More coming soon about a new approach to writing exhibition texts, the upcoming Stock Room Sale and plans for 2021 after a successful crowdfunding campaign effort!

vinaka vakalevu

And we’re open!

We launched our new site, Vunilagi Vou 2.0, on 10.10.2020 with a small cohort of supporters, opening our 10th exhibition, Fofola Koloa – Unfolding my Koloa – a collaborative show by Emily and Vea Mafile’o.

The final week before opening was an epic effort; utmost gratitude for the hard work and support of Jep Savali & Tanya Kaihe, Leilani Kake, the Carling family, Czarina Wilson, and especially Leiana Contractors.

Our opening formalities included karakia by Leilani Kake, an acknowledgment of family and whakapapa by Mereia Carling, with messages from both Helen and Kaliopate Tavola, and a beautiful waiata by Emma Parangi.

On Friday 30 October, we welcomed guests for our first Artist Talk in the new site discussing the exhibition, Fofola Koloa – Unfolding my Koloa with both Emily and Vea Mafile’o.

Whilst it was a night of manic traffic around South Auckland, this talanoa was perfectly paced for a balmy Friday night. The discussion touched on the strengths and challenges of art school and an era of Manukau School of Visual Arts (2002-2005) which exposed both the artists and facilitator, Ema Tavola, to the key foundational influences that shaped their career trajectories. An important outcome of this discussion was the ability to confront tensions and actions that had played significantly into the ways each artist had developed their practices.

Somehow, the setting of Vunilagi Vou 2.0 and the historical frames of reference running through the exhibition enabled this talanoa to hit the sweet spot of harmonious criticality (Professor Hūfanga Dr. ‘Okusitino Māhina); a deeply healing, and much needed conversation about making Pacific art, holding space for critique, and the art historical landscape of South Auckland.

Vunilagi Vou 2.0 is now open on an appointment-only basis. The current exhibition, Fofola Koloa – Unfolding my Kolola runs until 21 November 2020; to book an appointment for viewing and talanoa, click here.

Photo credits from Vunilagi Vou 2.0 launch event: Raymond Sagapolutele.

Crowdfunding for a post-pandemic restart

With the opening of the new site firmly on the vunilagi (horizon), we’ve partnered with Boosted, the home of creative crowdfunding in Aotearoa, to raise funds to support an Exhibitions Fund for Vunilagi Vou 2.0.

From 8 October – 5 November 2020, we’re aiming to raise NZ$10,000 to support a new programme, site specifically developed for Vunilagi Vou’s new context.

If you are able to, and keen to contribute to the development of a new and refined curatorial vision that has contemporary Pacific art and audiences at its core, please donate here!

Here, some of our Vunilagi Vou community offer a firm tautoko for our cause:

Vinaka vakalevu for video contributions by Nigel Borell, Tanu Gago, Andy Leleisi’uao, Vea Mafile’o, Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai, Raymond Sagapolutele and Vaimaila Urale.

Thank you also to Creative New Zealand who are offering a match fund of NZ$3,000 towards 15 Pasifika arts projects crowdfunding via Boosted in October – November.

We re-open Vunilagi Vou as an exhibitions gallery this weekend and appointments for viewings will be available as of next week. Watch this space!

Also, check out the developments of the new space on Instagram with the hashtag, #VunilagiVou2_0

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: