Spring was welcomed perfectly at Vunilagi Vou with Niu Lemalu’s solo exhibition, Let’s Play Outside, a suite of six new paintings made throughout 2023 with support of the Two Solos crowdfunding effort of late 2022. The exhibition’s opening in late August launched Vunilagi Vou’s revised and necessarily re-scheduled public programme after an unplanned hiatus in June/July.
Let’s Play Outside is Niu Lemalu’s second solo exhibition after his first 13 years ago at Fresh Gallery Ōtara. In this body of large-scale acrylic paintings on canvas and board, Lemalu has experimented with different painterly perspectives and techniques in studies of obscure internet meme culture and the virally bizarre.
Visitors to this exhibition have been painting enthusiasts, those intrigued with Lemalu’s obscure internet interests, and Vunilagi Vou supporters keen to see and experience a room full of new paintings made here in South Auckland.
In July, I delivered a paper entitled, Holding space for decolonisation in South Auckland at the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Arts Educators (ANZAAE) Conference in Wellington, check it out here:
Also in July, I had the opportunity to visit Tonga-based artists Serene Tay and Visesio Siasau, who are building an incredible space for Moana Pacific art and talanoa in Haveluloto. It was the most inspiring two weeks of deep dives into Tonga-Fiji histories and connections, Lapita pottery, curating and holding space, socio-political dynamics of art and arts appreciation, galleries and gallery culture. I am deeply grateful and can’t wait to return in 2024!
It was a privilege to speak at two Moana Oceania Pacific art exhibition openings in September; Alteration by FAFSWAG at Māngere Arts Centre, and Straight from the Horse’s Mouth by Czarina Wilson at Celebrate Aotearoa in Glen Innes, East Auckland.
Alteration is a 10 year retrospective of the award-winning collective, FAFSWAG, symbolically delivered in South Auckland, where their story began. As I noted in my speech, this 10 year milestone is testament to FAFSWAG’s awe-inspiring dedication and continuous commitment to improving our world. Not just for Pride Festivals, or as commissioned entertainment at art industry events, not just in art and exhibitions, but as a continuously visible, active community of care and change-making. FAFSWAG has evolved our world. It was a privilege to speak alongside my dear friend and fellow South Auckland-based artist-curator, Nigel Borell to help open this important exhibition that runs until 28 October 2023.
Tongan artist and creative entrepreneur Czarina Wilson made a beautiful solo exhibition to mark the first anniversary of her gift shop, Celebrate Aotearoa in its current site on Apirana Avenue in Glen Innes. Celebrate Aotearoa is an amazing retail environment that also holds space for workshops, pop-ups and gatherings.
Having taken a small hiatus from making to get Celebrate Aotearoa off the ground, Czarina Wilson returned to her practice to make a new body of work expanding on her signature style of woven textiles, appliqué and couture statement-wear. Straight from the Horse’s Mouth explores the quilting technique known in Tongan as monomono pani, a form of puffer patchwork that lends itself beautifully to geometric design. Observed and learned from the matriarchs of Wilson’s famili, this quilting technique is used to make blankets and bedspreads that become koloa – items of cultural value gifted and received within the Tongan community.
Central to this body of work is a three-piece collection originally made for the 2023 Hokonui Fashion Awards. Produced after a break from fashion design, the collection represented a triumphant return to the catwalk after almost a decade. The garments are detail-driven, labour-intensive, and hark back to Wilson’s passion for urban Polynesian streetwear and popular culture.
The two wall works in this exhibition speak to the ways the artform of monomono connects across generations, from the cradle to the grave. They remind us that blankets hold us and wrap around us, make us feel safe, and protected. Fabrics carry story, memory, sensory nostalgia; they exist next to our skin, absorbing our tears, fears and energy.
It was another privilege to speak and write about another Moana Oceania Pacific art practice that I’ve appreciated for such a long time.
This month, I’ve been busy making artwork again as a recipient of Tautai Trust’s annual Fale-Ship residency programme:
More about the outcome of this small residency opportunity coming soon.
And later on this month, we open our last exhibition for 2023, Muscle Memory – a solo exhibition by Genevieve Pini!
Muscle Memory will take Vunilagi Vou’s programme out for 2023. It has been a rocky year with an unplanned closure, a stop-start momentum, and losing out on multiple applications for Creative New Zealand arts grant investment. As a result, 2024 will bring around another neccessary shapeshift.
More to say, watch this space.