From opening night through to pack-down, we had a steady stream of visitors – many visiting the Aotearoa Art Fair for the first time, lots of artists, arts workers and appreciators from the Moana Pacific arts sectors and social networks, and a lot of new faces – folks encountering Vunilagi Vou for the first time.
It was great to be present in this space as a first-time booth-holder, and fascinating to see the working cogs of the Aotearoa art market through the lens of the Fair.
Gratitude to Mereia Carling, who spent a day transiting through Auckland, working the Vunilagi Vou booth! And to dear friend, exhibiting artist and non-stop Vunilagi Vou supporter, Nigel Borell, for working, talking, networking and Instagramming the booth for the duration of the event!
Last year we set the wheels in motion to present solo exhibitions by two South Auckland-based artists, Niu Lemalu and Genevieve Pini, here at Vunilagi Vou in 2023. Through the BoostedxMoana initiative (a partnership between Boosted [The Arts Foundation] and Creative New Zealand), we crowdfunded $10k to support the artists and the presentation of their new work.
Presenting work at the Aotearoa Art Fair was part of the process of preparing for their solos; we got to expand awareness for their practices, and gauge the ways audiences responded to their ideas. One of the best outcomes of the whole project was that both Niu and Genevieve sold their work at the Fair – an excellent endorsement and motivation in preparation for their solos.
It was also really wonderful to host members of both Niu and Genevieve’s families at the Fair. I’ve always enjoyed the ways family members talanoa about the artists in their lives. It’s gratifying to present the work of these artists within a wider context of the art market to illustrate a value system that they sit within.
The Art Fair was a great focus for the first quarter of the year and at the end of April, we launch a season of solos at Vunilagi Vou that will take us through to October!
Vunilagi Vou’s stockroom is currently being re-hung to accommodate for some of the unsold works from the Art Fair, including some of Nigel Borell’s gorgeous works on paper, one of which was the Atomic Coffee Roasters annual commission.
Whilst the exhibitions programme doesn’t kick off until the end of April, the VV Stockroom is open Thursday – Saturday, 10am – 2pm, or via appointment.
There is something very satisfying about being at the halfway mark of our four week crowdfunding campaign and sitting on 50% of our target of $10k…
Satisfying, and filled with gratitude, but slightly daunted about the prospect of raising the remaining $5k in 14 days. Can we do it? Can we do it with your help??
As has been shared throughout this campaign, this project is not filled with ‘knowns’. The outcome of Genevieve Pini and Niu Lemalu’s solo exhibitions is yet to be developed; this fund will enable them the time and space, support and materials to get to that point.
Genevieve and Niu are both relatively unknown in the wider awareness of Moana Pacific artists; in both cases, most of the creative work has happened in South Auckland, within grassroots settings, or within exhibitions that I’ve curated. Genevieve is a multiple award-winner from what was our annual design competition, Villa Maria Cult Couture and was profiled on Fresh TV here, and I featured three of Niu’s paintings in a pop-up exhibition series I made in 2015 called the PIMPI Winter Series; his interview was the most popular page on the website offering excellent insights to the mind of this painter, check it out here. In fact, both Genevieve and Niu made work for the PIMPI Winter Series in 2015, which I discussed on Radio New Zealand here.
I’ve had faith and been excited by both Genevieve and Niu’s art practices for almost 20 years. Niu made his first solo show at Fresh Gallery Ōtara when he was only 21 years old; Genevieve and I first met at Manukau School of Visual Arts in 2002 aged 19. It is this depth of familiarity, of knowing, that gives me total faith that this investment will enable them both to bring exciting, post-pandemic, deeply marinated ideas to the table… and I can’t wait to see what is produced!
I’ve asked some peers to help endorse this project’s kaupapa, and Ōtara-based artist and educator Leilani Kake offered a moving message about the importance of making solo shows here, and celebrated curator Nigel Borell MNZM, offered an insight about my curatorial practice and the act of making shows in South Auckland here. This week across social media, I published another testimonial by another award-winning peer, Tanu Gago MNZM – check it out below. I’m so grateful to this community of practice that surrounds Vunilagi Vou, and every project we produce and artist we work with.
Tanu mentions one thing at the beginning of this video that is sometimes not easy to really articulate. The act of curating Tanu Gago’s first solo shows wasn’t just because I had total faith in him, his visual language and what he had to say (as I do with Niu and Genevieve), but that curating his work was an act of fortifying a time and space for him in the art world, and in the case of Tanu, a time and space that became a launchpad for a tremendous trajectory.
The intention when curating Moana Pacific artists into exhibitions, whether group or solo endeavours, is never about the pursuit of fame, sales or fortune, but always about enabling artists to see themselves in a wider art world that mostly doesn’t look or sound like us. As a curator, my role has always been to enable artists to feel their voices are valid and important. To be affirmed, and know that someone is listening and hyping you, to know that you don’t stand alone, and that imposter syndrome can always be countered when we move together.
In essence, this crowdfunding effort is about more than two solo exhibitions. The donations and support from our communities so far has already shown these two artists the belief people have in what they do and what they will do. It is that investment that I know will have the most powerful impact on them, today and into the future. That shift in feeling supported, valid and worthy of investment is what will create some really powerful work in 2023.
Hitting our $10k target will enable all this good stuff to happen with a bit more ease. In the case of both artists, applying for CNZ arts grant investment has never really felt like an option. The process itself is a barrier, the competition for funds is aggressive, and as Nigel Borell states in his video, making art is so often a 3rd, 4th even 5th priority for working folx.
As a curator who is interested in the power and potential of sometimes the quietest voices, and a curator who has seen artists grow and flourish in abundant, art history shifting ways, I hope the next two weeks can show us how much faith our communities can generate for not only these two excellent artists, but also Moana Pacific curating as a mode of service and of decolonisation.
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.
>>> Read a short interview with Antonio Filipo here >>> For artworks still available from these exhibitions, get in touch.
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.
All the best for a restful and safe festive season!
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 Southsideis 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
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 // firstname.lastname@example.org // 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