Painting and portraiture in the Southside #VVxAlexander

Vunilagi Vou is proud to present a new exhibition developed site-specifically for The Alexander Cafe in Ōtara, South Auckland.

Picture Me Rollin – Portraiture in the Southside is a collection of painted portraits that have been either made in South Auckland or ended up here, as in the case of this striking oil painting of former New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk painted in 1975 by Dutch painter, Johanna Van Massop. It was this large-scale portrait, bought to Vunilagi Vou in 2020 by its owner, that re-ignited an interest in both portraiture and the discipline of painting.

Johanna Van Massop (1932-2015) was a self-taught painter whose last documented exhibition was in 2009 at Nathan Homestead in Manurewa. Her later years were spent at Edmund Hillary Retirement Village in Remuera where she grew a close bond with her caregiver, Annie Young. Van Massop left a number of her replica and original oil paintings to Ms Young with the intention that the funds raised from selling them could help her to have the quality of care Van Massop received in her final years. In November 2020, Ms Young found her way to Vunilagi Vou 2.0, shared her story and started a conversation about opportunities to show and sell the works.

Whilst historical portraiture, and the work of Pākehā artists, doesn’t fall clearly in line with Vunilagi Vou’s position in the creative sector, the portrait of Norman Kirk has demanded attention and inspired deeper awareness of Kirk’s role in Aotearoa history and politics. The 46-year-old oil painting was completed the year following Kirk’s death whilst in office, and the year after Manukau City Council named their new public pools in Ōtara, the Norman Kirk Memorial Pools.

Picture Me Rollin – Portraiture in the Southside features work by eight Moana Oceania / Pacific artists alongside Van Massop’s Norman Kirk, inviting reflection on the meaning and craft of portraiture as markers in time, people as culture, painting as archive.

The artists featured represent a mix of self-taught and art school trained practitioners, with practices that have ebbed and flowed less with exhibitions and art world pursuits, and more with the grassroots economy of commissions, birthday banners, murals and apparel. Many of these practices have grown in garages and live on in homes and local collections, creating archives of Pacific peoples made by Pacific painters.

Picture Me Rollin is the name of a song by Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) released in 1996; an iconic, g-funk era classic reflecting curator Ema Tavola’s own time marker and drawing connections across generations, lived realities, geographies and creative expression.

Picture Me Rollin – Portraiture in the Southside

Featuring Apelu John Crouch, Marcus Hipa, Niutuiatua Lemalu, Genevieve Leitu Pini, Ema Tavola, Jade White, Czarina Wilson & Finer, and Johanna Van Massop.

26 July – 4 September 2021

The Alexander Cafe, 4/100 Alexander Crescent, Ōtara, South Auckland

Public programme to be announced soon!

On shapeshifting

I didn’t know when I locked up the gallery on Thursday 19th March that it would be the last day of business at our Ōtāhuhu premises. Things change quickly in a global pandemic and the gallery was and remains to be shut under New Zealand’s lockdown restrictions.

I took the opportunity to negotiate the end of the commercial leases on the three shops at 256 Great South Road that we have occupied since opening in May 2019. As of last week, we began the process of packing up and moving on from this premises.

Our last exhibition, Safe as Houses, featured stunning new work by Marcus Hipa, Craig Horne and Metiria Turei. Although we had a wonderful exhibition opening in early March, it was and is so sad to have had to close this exhibition prematurely.

This was a particularly rewarding show to co-curate with Leilani Kake for Auckland Arts Festival. Early support from the Festival enabled us to refine a concept befitting of the exposure it afforded us, and work with a group of creatives who produced poignant new work.

We will re-open an exhibitions space in October 2020, but as the end of Vunilagi Vou’s first chapter, and first iteration in the South Auckland suburb of Ōtāhuhu, it’s a bittersweet farewell.

The dynamic of Vunilagi Vou has been shapeshifting over the past weeks. Consultancy work and writing are becoming a higher priority, and an online store is in development. The new site for the gallery is a conscious move in a more sustainable direction.

The next iteration of Vunilagi Vou will take 4-5 months to realise and another journey has begun with Ōtara-based artist and builder, Sean Kerrigan. We’re aiming to open Vunilagi Vou 2.0 on October 10th, Fiji Day.

Trading in the commercial context for a suburban setting changes the dynamics of this venture. Our social gathering protocols will shift and change in the coming months, so being close to where the home fire burns is ideal. Vunilagi Vou 2.0 will operate on an appointment-only basis, streaming events and gatherings, activations and exhibition tours online.

The 10th exhibition at Vunilagi Vou’s Ōtāhuhu premises was to be my third solo exhibition; a meditation on the work of an arts manager. It was scheduled to coincide with the launch of our Creative New Zealand-funded Pacific Arts Management Residency programme, and open on April 7th to welcome the first Arts Manager in Residence, Fiji-based Peter Sipeli, coming to us direct from Hong Kong where he was Artist-in-Residence at Para Site from February to April.

The available works on paper made for this show will go into our online store in the coming months. The work surrounding the residency with Peter had already begun when the global pandemic happened. He had to return to Suva, Fiji and talks have been underway throughout lockdown to produce a series of online collaborations to map a virtual realisation of what the residency promised to deliver. With an extension granted on this funded project, there is still potential to bring Peter to South Auckland, so here’s hoping for 2021.

In the meantime, we are moving online for the winter months, and re-emerging in the Spring with a new physical site. Keep up to date with developments on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch and sign up for website updates because the email database, has finally moved up the priority list!