As we approach our 4th anniversary, remembering every anniversary has in fact been within the Covid-19 pandemic and aftermath, it’s a pleasure to present the 2023 programme for Vunilagi Vou x East Tāmaki.
This fourth site of Vunilagi Vou, officially opened in August 2022, has been a flexible, evolving space. It has taken time to work out how to operate here and what this gallery space needs… it has taken time to recalibrate after a period of spacelessness in early 2022, and it has taken time to find resource from contestable funding programmes. There have been some hits, some misses, but each time, the needle has shifted again on what is possible here.
In late 2022, a grant was secured from Creative New Zealand to research and develop a solo exhibition – my own! It was the first time I have applied for and secured investment for my individual art practice. My project started with the concept of vanua from a Fijian perspective – “Fijian interconnectedness inclusive of culture, chiefs, knowledge systems, relationships, values, land, and spiritualities” (Fijian Vanua Research Framework definition, here). I was and continue to be interested in the shifting dynamics of being Tangata Moana / Tangata Tiriti in Aotearoa and the comfort/discomfort of being an indigenous settler on land violated by ongoing colonial violence.
Through extensive talanoa with Kaliopate Tavola, my father and Head of Mataqali Navusalevu, the second Mataqali in Dravuni Village in Kadavu, Fiji, the project became anchored in a visual exploration of what is known as Lapita pottery. Like footprints of ancestors, this pottery practice maps time, space and connections across Oceania, its decorative patterning a kind of DNA for visual vocabularies we use to this day. This early exploration of Lapita pottery also coincided with a chance reconnection with Tonga-based artist Serene Tay; conversations about pottery, healing, gallery building and spirituality with Serene between Wellington and South Auckland were pivotal – I’m so thankful our paths crossed like they did.
The grant from Creative New Zealand offered me time and space to dive deeper and expand my thinking and experimental making. The gallery became a shared studio space, I returned to working with textiles and painting on loose canvas – approaches I had used as a young artist moving from Suva, Fiji to South Auckland. I’ve loved making work again, finding resolutions through assembling and mark-making, arriving at understanding through quiet contemplation.
I use the title ‘artist-curator’ as a nod to the Cook Islands curator, Jim Vivieaere (1947-2011), who was a mentor and groundbreaker for Moana Pacific curatorial practice. I’ve long asserted that my curatorial work is an extension of my visual arts practice, but this exhibition project has reminded me that curating is a collective, outward practice, creating an identity statement with many parts, and facilitating the ways and means that statement is delivered and received. Being an artist is, in my experience, deeply introspective, a practice of trying to understand where individual experience fits within a wider collective experience.
I’ve so enjoyed remembering the ‘artist’ part of being an artist-curator.
My solo exhibition, BACKBONE is a body of new paintings and textile assemblages.
BACKBONE kicks off a season of solo shows at Vunilagi Vou here in East Tāmaki.
In late June, Papatoetoe-based painter, Niu Lemalu presents his second solo exhibition, Let’s Play Outide and in August, Ōtara-based interdisciplinary artist, Genevieve Pini presents her highly anticipated first solo, Muscle Memory.
Please help us to kick off a season of solos!
BACKBONE opens with a Private View / Opening on Thursday 27 April from 6-9pm and then runs until 10 June 2023.
Vunilagi Vou is open Thursday – Saturday from 10am – 2pm, and by appointment. Parking is available outside the main gate.
Vunilagi Vou is located at 14/15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, South Auckland.