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:
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.
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.
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
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!
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.