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

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.