Vunilagi Vou’s beautiful fourth site was almost ready to open to the public on Wednesday 17 August 2022 from 10am until 6pm but then I caught Covid!
Having opened three sites since 2019 with boozy evening events, this new site calls in a new era, so appropriately, Saturday 27 August offers the lunar energies of a New Moon!
The open day now taking place on Saturday 27 August 2022 is an open invite to the public to check out VVxET between 10am – 6pm. For anyone still around at 6pm, Bishop Lenihan Place in East Tāmaki is abuzz on Saturday nights; multiple Korean barbecue spots, Bubble tea houses (Hulucat and Wucha), Love Asia, 100 Spicy, Mui Japanese Restaurant all offer excellent options for cheap eats on a weekend in the Southside!
More details to come on an opening exhibition that eases Vunilagi Vou back into exhibition-making mode after a year out of the game, and more details on finding this unassuming little secret spot in semi-industrial East Tāmaki, South Auckland heartland!
What: Open Day for VVxET – Vunilagi Vou’s new East Tāmaki site
Where: Unit 14, Botany South Business Estate, 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, South Auckland
On 17 August 2021, Vunilagi Vou in partnership with Celebrate Aotearoa (led by Tongan designer, Czarina Wilson) were operating in partnership out of The Alexander Cafe in Ōtara, South Auckland. Having built on several opportunities to collaborate, the partnership was pretty dreamy: Vunilagi Vou was making shows in the cafe space, Celebrate Aotearoa had built an awe-inspiring maximalist retail environment on the cafe’s mezzanine floor, and the Māori-Pacific owned cafe was an exciting hub for locals and professionals working in the area.
Recently, the outgoing Covid-19 minister, Chris Hipkins, noted that Auckland’s last lockdown in 2021, “may have gone on too long” – a sentiment that hit hard. That lockdown, which started on 17 August 2021, was a dealbreaker. Aucklanders were already fatigued, the pandemic was wearing resilience levels down; so many were suffering in different ways, and parents home-schooling and managing parental demands and expected to work with office-level productivity, were put under tremendous strain.
For Vunilagi Vou, the lockdown meant cancelling events with no known timeframe for re-scheduling, returning grant money and watching the delicate momentum of our third site weaken every day. Whilst government subsidies allowed many small businesses to keep afloat during lockdown, it was the mental and spiritual hit that was perhaps the most debilitating for Vunilagi Vou.
In late 2021, the decision was made to pack down operations at The Alexander Cafe and work with the ebbs and flows of the Covid climate by withdrawing entirely from producing exhibitions and events. Focus was put instead on consultancy work, writing projects and pop-ups, whilst reflecting heavily on what was even possible for small scale creative enterprises in the age of Covid.
Celebrate Aotearoa continued to operate at The Alexander Cafe, but was strategising next steps to keep building on the strong customer base and longer term agenda to find space for not only retail but for making and producing.
Whilst much of Vunilagi Vou’s gallery-based assets had been stored, redistributed and sold, a TradeMe search reminder for commercial leases in the Manukau City and Ōtāhuhu areas kept the idea of a new space quietly alive.
Earlier this year, working in partnership with long-time friend and colleague, Kiri Nathan, Czarina Wilson started to plant seeds to shift Celebrate Aotearoa operations from South Auckland back to the Eastside – Glen Innes, where both Kiri and Czarina grew up and have deep roots.
After operating from a converted shipping container at The Ōtara Kai Village (2020) and the mezzanine floor in a refurbished factory at The Alexander Cafe (2021-2022), this month Celebrate Aotearoa is re-opening in an amazing new retail space smack bang in the middle of Glen Innes at 3/260 Apirana Avenue, across the road from the Glen Innes train station!
After securing Creative New Zealand investment from the Pacific Creative Enterprise initiative, a new pathway emerged for Vunilagi Vou. A property became available that could not have been more perfect: built in 2004, the ground floor commercial space had only ever functioned as a small dealer gallery, fitted out with high spec lighting and a hanging system. Amazingly, the north-facing property is located in East Tāmaki, a stone’s throw from Ōtara, and positioned on the edge of environmentally protected wetlands surrounding the Ōtara Stream.
VVxET, Vunilagi Vou’s fourth iteration, is going to re-open symbolically, alongside Celebrate Aotearoa on Wednesday 17 August, marking one year since the start of Auckland’s longest lockdown in 2021. This important milestone also represents the strength of conviction, mental, spiritual and physical labour that both these operations have honed being led by independent, Moana Pacific creatives striving to hold space and create economic growth for the communities we are part of.
It has taken a year of heavy energies, soul searching, a few breaking points, some big sacrifices and a few attempted exit strategies (Wellington, Waiheke, the Far North…), and amazingly not catching Covid, but Celebrate Aotearoa and Vunilagi Vou are on the rebound.
We are both re-opening for business on Wednesday 17 August in our new respective locations:
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
Vunilagi Vou formally opened on Friday 31 May 2019, a stormy night in South Auckland! Through driving rain and a hail storm, a beautiful mob of Pacific arts supporters came out to celebrate South Auckland’s newest little art space.
A huge thank you to those who supported with wine and food, thank you to Lissy Cole for the amazing catering, and Rudi Robinson for providing an excellent bar man service! Thank you to Vaimaila Urale for a generous koha of bubbles, and Nicole Lim for the cake!
The combined energies of everyone who came out to support and celebrate our launch were hugely uplifting and will undoubtedly set us on a good course, serving and growing the Vunilagi Vou community.
Our inaugural exhibition, WWJD:2was well received – thank you to all the artists who helped launch Vunilagi Vou’s dynamic and fast turnover exhibition programme; we’ll be opening a new exhibition on the first Tuesday of every month!
Melissa Cole and Rudi Robinson
Of the 15 works on display, most are for sale in line with Vunilagi Vou’s intention to make contemporary Pacific art accessible to new collectors. Notably, two beautiful paintings by Andy Leleisi’uao, one our sector’s most productive and successful practitioners, still based here in Māngere, South Auckland.
Andy Leleisi’uao has an outstanding survey show called Kamoan Mine on at Pah Homestead in Auckland’s Hillsborough until July 14. The exhibition is the artist’s most significant survey of more than 20 years of practice. It is such a privilege to have these two works, along with a series of print works in the Vunilagi Vou retail area, on show at the same time.
We opened the gallery with a fully stocked retail range including locally produced repurposed textile accessories and homeware by Lissy Cole Designs, hand-made organic coconut soaps by Mananuanua – the mother and daughter home-based small business of artist, Vaimaila Urale, a range of beautiful bilum bags from Papua New Guinea, small paintings by ‘Ahota’e’iloa Toetu’u, a custom range of earrings by Aolele Adornment and accessories and homeware by South Auckland-based mother and son small business, Kingdom Design Store driven by Tongan designer, Czarina Wilson.
Vunilagi Vou’s retail range is constantly evolving and also include a range of framed and unframed limited edition prints by Andy Leleisi’uao, Pati Solomona Tyrell and former Fresh Gallery Ōtara Gallery Coordinator and designer, Nicole Lim, who has contributed a very special edition (50) of her illustration work, Grassroots. The work speaks to both early Fresh Gallery Ōtara and Vunilagi Vou’s dedication to the power of engaging grassroots audiences, and enabling artists to be heard and seen. Thank you Nicole, it’s wonderful to be collaborating again!
Grassroots by Nicole Lim
Artist Nicole Lim, photo by Iokapeta Magele-Suamasi
The launch of Vunilagi Vou was made possible with support from Creative Communities Scheme – vinaka vakalevu!
Vunilagi Vou is open Tuesday to Thursday from 10am to 5pm, Friday from 10am to 6pm and Saturday from 11am – 4pm. Find advice for getting to the space here.
Our next exhibition opens on Tuesday 2 July – watch this space for details, or follow Vunilagi Vou on Facebook,Instagram and Twitter!
A new art gallery in Ōtāhuhu has contemporary Pacific art and audiences at its core. Vunilagi Vou, opening on Queen’s Birthday weekend, will show a new exhibition each month, sell art works and objects and provide a communal space for creatives to come together.
Gallery Director Ema Tavola (Fiji, Pākehā) says that a dedicated space for contemporary Pacific art, that recognises the importance of historical context and community connections, is much needed.
“Our exhibitions programme will highlight important social commentary on issues that affect our lives as Pacific people; expanding the idea and potential of what contemporary Pacific art is and can be.”
Ema says there is aparticular focus for the gallery on local artists from the wider Ōtāhuhu and Māngere area and women artists. “We’ll be supporting emerging artists into their exhibition experiences as well as showing work by senior artists who exhibit in central Auckland and internationally.”
Making buying and collecting art more accessible is another important aim of the gallery. “We know there are plenty of people, particularly young professionals, who are interested in original art and supporting artists, and we want to empower and enable that.”
Vunilagi Vou’s opening exhibition, WWJD:2 is a vibrant snapshot of the breadth and depth of contemporary Pacific art, from a South Auckland perspective generally, and specifically Ema’s perspective. “This is my first local exhibition in a long time that speaks directly to my art ecology; the networks and energies that sustain me.”
WWJD:2 featured artists draw heritage from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Sāmoa and Tonga as well as New Zealand (Māori and Pākeha) and Australia. They range from emerging to established, nodding to the intergenerational connections within Aotearoa’s contemporary Pacific art history. Works take diverse forms including textiles, photography, painting, film and paper.
The exhibition, which is supported by Creative NZ’s Creative Communities programme, is the second in the ‘What Would Jim Do’ series paying homage to the renowned late Cook Islands curator, Jim Vivieaere, who passed away on June 3, 2011.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Ema Tavola // email@example.com // 0275 779 369
Notes to editors
South Auckland’s new gallery centralising contemporary Pacific Art and audiences.
Where: 4/256 Great South Road, Ōtāhuhu (down arcade)
Opening hours: Opens to public Saturday 1 June, then open Tuesday – Thursday from 10am – 5pm, Friday 10am – 6pm, Saturday 11am – 4pm
Vunilagi in Fijian language commonly refers to the horizon, but can be broken down as vu- meaning trunk, as in the trunk of a tree, and -lagi the abbreviated version of lomalagi, heaven. Ni serves to connect the two, so vunilagi is that which holds up the heavens. Vou means new.
Vunilagi Vou retail: As well as the works in most exhibitions, Vunilagi Vou will sell a small range of art objects by local creatives, including:
Tyla Vaeau Ta’ufo’ou – Prints
Lissy Cole Design – Textile works
Kingdom Design – Homeware and accessories
Aolele Adornment – Jewellery
Molly Pihigia – Jewellery
WWJD:2 Exhibiting Artists
Margaret Aull (Tuwharetoa / Te Rarawa, Fiji)
Melissa Cole (Ngati Hine, Ngati Kahu)
Tanu Gago (Sāmoa, NZ)
Julia Mage’au Gray (Papua New Guinea, Australia)
Leilani Kake (Ngapuhi / Tainui, Cook Islands)
Andy Leleisi’uao (Sāmoa, NZ)
Niutuiatua Lemalu (Sāmoa, NZ)
Sinia Malua (Tonga, NZ)
Vea Mafile’o (Tonga, NZ)
Molly Pihigia (Niue, NZ)
‘Ahota’e’iloa Toetu’u (Tonga, NZ)
Vaimaila Urale (Sāmoa, NZ)
Daniel Weetman (Fiji, NZ)
About the Gallery Director
Gallery Director Ema Tavola, born in Suva, Fiji, and based in Papatoetoe, has spent almost 20 years working within the South Auckland creative sector as a curator, producer, researcher, teacher and artist.
Her curatorial practice is a mechanism for social inclusion, centralising Pacific ways of seeing, decolonisation and exhibition making as a form of activism. She was the founding curator of Fresh Gallery Ōtara and has produced close to 80 exhibitions foregrounding work by Pacific artists to be shown both locally and internationally, most recently including 2018’s ‘A Maternal Lens’, shown at the 4th International Biennial of Casablanca in Morocco.
SAVAGE IN THE GARDEN series (2018) by Tanu Gago
Portrait of Vunilagi Vou Director, Ema Tavola / Photo by Pati Solomona Tyrell
Mate Ma’a Tonga flag by Czarina Wilson for Kingdom Design
Vunilagi Vou is a new venture dedicated to exploring the potential of contemporary Pacific art, artists and audiences through curatorial projects, community engagement and creative events.
As a professional curator and Pacific arts consultant, Ema Tavola has spent 15 years working predominantly in South Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand in the fields of community arts development, arts funding and investment strategy, events, public programming and gallery management.
Vunilagi in Fijian language commonly refers to the horizon, but can be broken down as vu- meaning trunk, as in the trunk of a tree, and -lagi being the abbreviated version of lomalagi, meaning heaven. Ni serves to connect the two, so vunilagi is that which holds up the heavens. Vou means new.
For Ema, the vunilagi is a space of infinite potential, a space of dreaming and transformation; it is a connection between the known and the unknown, the tangible and intangible. As the vision for a new professional platform to work from, Vunilagi Vou reflects the potential of contemporary Pacific art and approaches to connect communities, enabling histories, social narratives and relationships to be revealed and renewed.
Vunilagi Vou is a concept originally developed in partnership with Fiji-based designer and consultant, Mereia Carling, whose professional background is in child rights, social policy and youth participation in the Pacific.