VV First Fridays: On courage

In a gentle start to the year, Vunilagi Vou’s first VV First Fridays event is on Friday 3 February and tackles the topic of courage.

The VV First Fridays event series was supported in 2022 by Creative New Zealand as a means to build community amongst Moana Pacific artists and the wider creative ecology here in South Auckland. The series of 10 events take place on the first Friday of the month from February to November, a low-key creative social club to get inspired, motivated and thoughtful at the start of each month.

In February, Vunilagi Vou invites anyone interested to come and listen to two inspiring Fijian creative thinkers talking story about their experiences of courage; when it’s needed, how to harness it and where it comes from.

Mereia Carling and Gina Cole have both had careers that have moved between creative pursuits and high-level professional roles in the fields of regional development and law. Courage is something they’ve both discussed, encouraged and inspired in those they’ve worked with and served, but like everyone, it has also been something they’ve had to understand and harness in their personal lives.

This conversation about courage is less a TED-talk and more a story sharing space; how does a Fijian lawyer become a Taekwondo practising sci-fi writer dreaming of worlds of Pasifikafuturism? How does a graduate of a fashion and textiles design training in Bristol, England end up working in child rights across the Pacific, and painting portraits of ancestors in Wellington?

Sometimes, being around a conversation about courage is enough to shape, inspire and mobilise courageous acts.

Vunilagi Vou is proud to welcome guests for the first time in 2023 to meet two inspiring and courageous women, break bread, kick back and enjoy a hazy summer evening at VVxET in East Tāmaki on Friday 3 February – doors open at 6pm, all welcome!

  • Vunilagi Vou is located at Suite 14, 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, South Auckland – more details here.
  • Public parking is available outside the main gate; entrance to the compound is via pedestrian gates.
  • Refreshments provided.
  • The venue is wheelchair accessible, please get in touch to make special arrangements.

Mereia Carling

Mereia Carling is a Fijian with i-Taukei and Pākeha ancestry. Born in Aotearoa New Zealand, she has only lived in this country for three years, moving just before the pandemic – a journey of courage that took her to the sheer edge of sanity. Not the first one however, moving countries and changing careers – finding and following her destined path – has been and continues to be a journey of self-discovery, finding faith and the ancestors, and depths of courage she did not know she had. While she works a paid job that advances human rights for children and youth across Aotearoa New Zealand’s international development cooperation, she is an artist at heart. Qualified as a designer of fashion and textiles, she previously worked as an artist and designer before venturing into the development world. She has been writing her ‘story’ for the last 14 years to document her journey of courage, and has recently found enough life/work balance to start painting again.

Gina Cole

Gina Cole (Fijian, Pakeha) MNZM, writer, lives in Tāmaki Makaurau. She won Best First Book Award at the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards for her collection Black Ice Matter. Her work has been widely anthologized and has appeared in numerous publications. She has appeared at many writing festivals, conferences and residencies including Auckland Writers Festival, Same Same but Different LGBTQIA+ Writers Festival, CoNZealand World Science Fiction Online Conference, Brisbane Writers Festival, Michael King Writers Centre Established Pasifika Writer’s Residency, Iowa International Writers Residency, Sitka Island Institute Alaska Residency and Varuna Writers House Residency, Katoomba, Blue Mountains, Australia.  She is a qualified barrister & solicitor and practised law for many years. She holds a Masters of Creative writing and PhD in Creative Writing and is an Honorary Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa. Gina has written two short film scripts for PISA Screen Fit. She also works as a background extra and has appeared in multiple film and television productions including The Rings of Power, One of Us is Lying, Sweet Tooth, The Wilds, Whina, Our Flag Means Death, Shortland Street, Brokenwood Mysteries and many others. Her science fiction fantasy novel Na Viro (Huia) is a work of Pasifikafuturism.

2022: Building, stirring, growing, hustling – Onwards and upwards!

This year has seen some of the hardest pivots of the pandemic but has ended on December 31, on solid ground.

Operating in ‘low power mode’ for the first few months of the year, Vunilagi Vou was a spaceless entity. With no gallery and relatively few options for storage, Vunilagi Vou tables, chairs, stools and gallery furnishings were re-distributed into the community. The remaining gallery resources went into a small storage unit and the future was a ‘work in progress’.

A project to produce and install a pop-up exhibition curated by Nigel Borell for the Taste of Pasifika four day festival at The Cloud on Auckland’s waterfront was undertaken precariously between a garage in Sandringham, a campervan and a pergola in Papatoetoe. The exhibition, Moonwalkerz, ran for the duration of the festival and also offered an unplanned opportunity for Vunilagi Vou to have a booth at the event.

Installing the exhibition and then working the festival for four days was an act of endurance, but incredibly rewarding. I remembered in the process what I love about the space between art and audiences, holding space for conversations, generating sales for artists and makers, and I remembered the intoxicating energy of Pacific people when we gather, connect, sing and celebrate.

  • Check out Moonwalkerz exhibiting artist profiles here and the digital catalogue designed by award-winning design agency, Extended Whānau here.

A one-off grant from Creative New Zealand’s Pacific Creative Enterprise initiative and the energy of Pasifika Festival created a new momentum in mid-2022; a strategic decision was made to open the doors of a fourth iteration of Vunilagi Vou. The East Tāmaki premises of Vunilagi Vou sits on the edge of environmentally protected wetlands surrounding the Ōtara Stream, in the heart of the Ōtara catchment area. It is a fairly unusual location on the border of the suburbs of Ōtara and Flat Bush / Ormiston nestled amongst predominantly Korean eateries, acupuncturists and physios. But it’s the watery outlook, the peace of the green expanse and the contrast of all the above that makes Vunilagi Vou: East Tāmaki a challenging and exciting space to make exhibitions.

VVxET opened in late August with a day-long opening; time for long conversations, tea, views, rolling waves of visitors. This new space requires a different approach to openings.

  • Read more about VVxET’s first exhibition and open day here.
Maka (2022), a mauri stone by Niuean artist, Chris van Doren in the foreground, work by Ercan Cairns in the background. Photo by Sam Hartnett.

In October, Vunilagi Vou collaborated with Koleta Boutique, another Fijian-owned business located here at 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, on a stall at Auckland’s first Melanesian Festival. The day was a triumph of representation and Melanesian visibility; completely uplifting, inspiring and empowering.

  • Check out this interview for Pacific Cooporation Foundation on the Melanesian Festival here.

Speaking engagements this year were mostly in the form of contributions to panel discussions. In October, I contributed to a discussion on creative entrepreneurship at the CNZ Pacific Arts Summit in Wellington (see below), and in November, made a small contribution to an inspiring gathering of young curators to discuss expanded approaches of curatorial work in Aotearoa at the Aotearoa Art Fair in central Auckland.

But a most special speaking engagement was the opportunity to contribute to the independently run Camp Boom programme produced by Joanna McLeod of House of Boom in Wellington. Delivering an invitational presentation on making space for fat liberation was a beautiful opportunity to reflect on Vunilagi Vou’s FATFEB seasons inspired by Ōtāhuhu-based artist Lissy Cole, and the late Dr Cat Pausé.

The whole Camp Boom programme was so well designed and the venue in downtown Wellington was excellent. The community that came to be amongst it created an amazing energy; sovereign bodies, unshackled from the boring capitalist restraints of fatphobia are glorious to be around. Big ups to Joanna and the House of Boom team; a kaupapa worthy of so much support and investment.

After the ‘low power mode’ of early 2022, the second half of the year saw a rabid return to the rigours of arts fundraising. We crowdfunded with Boosted to generate $10k towards holding two solo exhibitions for local artists, Niu Lemalu and Genevieve Pini in 2023, a particularly challenging feat in the current economic climate. CNZ grants were also secured to support the delivery of a third solo exhibition for the 2023 programme, and a lo-fi programme of events delivered on the first Friday of every month from February to November 2023, an event format first trialled in September – read about it here.

Another small grant was secured to support Vunilagi Vou’s first booth at the Aotearoa Art Fair from 2-5 March 2023, something that has been on the goals list since opening our doors in 2019. Developing this plan has been so exciting; I can’t wait to start building the momentum for this!

In December, I posted a series of Tweets along with other South Aucklanders speaking back to the lazy stereotyping of National Party leader, Christopher Luxon in an interview discussing his perspectives on the ways in which young people in South Auckland are drawn to criminality. The thread turned into a short article for The Spinoff and was shared and discussed widely, notably quoted by the iconic MP Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, co-leader of Te Pāti Māori, in her regular opinion piece for the NZ Herald (14 December 2022).

2022 was a year of bold moves, re-thinking, a bit of whistle blowing, building and cultivating a new ecosystem around Vunilagi Vou’s new locality in East Tāmaki.

To the 150+ individuals who contributed to our crowdfunding campaign; your generosity and investment has been transformational. Words can’t express what it means to be supported by our communities in a cost of living crisis, and a pandemic. This investment in Vunilagi Vou, and artists Niu Lemalu and Genevieve Pini, gives our 2023 programme serious weight. Thank you so much.

Vinaka vakalevu for tremendous support, unwavering belief and investment in the work of Vunilagi Vou in 2022.

2023 is going to be exciting, hard and rewarding. Like Fiji in a post-Fiji First regime era, onwards and upwards!

For Fiji Ever Fiji | Ema & Lanuola, December 2022

Happy New Year!

_______

Image credit: The header image for this post featuring Nigel Borell, Chantelle Whaiapu, Ema Tavola and Tanya Kaihe (background) alongside Leisa Siteine, was taken in Manukau City on 21 December 2022 at a dinner celebrating Leisa’s contributions and leadership within local government, from humble beginnings as an aerobics instructor to the founding manager of Manukau Arts, and outgoing Event Production Manager at ATEED. It was a massive privilege to have worked with Leisa from 2006-2012, and again for Taste of Pasifika in 2022.

The Two Solos Raffle is live! Buy a ticket before 11 November to win goodies galore!

We have received some lovely donations to help our Two Solos crowdfunding effort on Boosted, so we’re doing a quick raffle from 1-11 November!

Tickets are $20 and put you in the draw to win one of four prize packs including lovely reusable produce and shopping bags, soy + coconut candles and soaps from Store Eco Friendly, publications including a signed copy of Nigel Borell’s iconic Toi Tū Toi Ora pukapuka, goodies from Koleta Pacific Boutique, a poster print of Vunilagi Vou’s tragic bestseller, “The Struggle” and a very special original painting on board by Genevieve Pini originally shown at Hoea! earlier this year!

Our project team, Niu Lemalu, Genevieve Pini and Vunilagi Vou will be selling tickets from Tuesday 1 November until Friday 11 November – winners will be drawn at 11am on 11/11/22 ✨🔮✨

Tickets also available here.

We have $5000 to raise in the next 14 days! Your support, big or small, is much appreciated! Donations directly to the campaign can be made here!

Thank you for the generous donations to our campaign, especially @storeecofriendly and @nigelborell, thank you to @_czarinaz_ for the advice and pep talk – Vinaka vakalevu from all of us!

Half way there, half way to our goal!

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.

Please consider donating today!

Vinaka vakalevu!

#VVFirstFridays – A beginning…

On the first Friday of September, we gently launched a new event series called VV First Fridays, a very relaxed approach to bringing together folx interested in Moana Pacific art and ideas here in South Auckland.

Vunilagi Vou’s new site in East Tāmaki is situated a stone’s throw from Ōtara and Dr Sione Faletau is one of three Ōtara-based artists currently showing in our VVxET launch exhibition. Having completed his postgraduate studies at Elam School of Fine Arts, Sione’s work has carved an impressive pathway into the Auckland art world. In 2021, he was commissioned to produce a new work for The Lightship, a new contemporary art site launched by the Ports of Auckland consisting of a 110m-long, 13m-high light wall that wraps around the western façade of the port’s car handling building. His work was entitled, Kupesi Sisi Huelo ‘oe Taulanga Waitematā moe Funga Tāmaki MakaurauThe Garland of patterned Lights of the Watematā Harbour and Auckland City.

This VV First Fridays event sat within what is widely celebrated as Tongan Language Week in part to acknowledge Sione’s work as a Tongan creative practitioner who consistently uses Lea faka-Tonga / Tongan language in the naming of his work. Reflecting on interviews and media coverage about his practice, it is significant to see Tongan language and concepts being discussed in places and spaces where it is rarely seen.

Artists Benjamin Work + Clinton Hewett

From Sione’s research into Tongan masculinity, his upbringing and experiences going to Tangaroa College and Ōtāhuhu College, the pathways and pillars of knowledge within academic and cultural spaces, Vunilagi Vou’s first ‘First Fridays’ talanoa delved into the murky waters of colonial body politics, where domestic violence sits within the traditional measures of masculinity and the time, space and ephemerality of making video art.

(L-R) Ema Tavola, Sione Faletau, Benjamin Work, Clinton Hewett and Leilani Kake

Vunilagi Vou sits in a creative ecology here in South Auckland that weaves countless lives, arts practice and experience together. At this first VV First Fridays talanoa, we realised that fellow Ōtara-based artist, Leilani Kake, was working at Ōtāhuhu College when Sione was there and coordinated a pretty spectacular school trip that he went on in 2008 to the Festival of Pacific Arts in Pago Pago, American Sāmoa. Clinton Hewett was a student at Manukau Institute of Technology in 2013 when I was teaching a paper called Pacific Art Histories: An Eccentric View (and was an awesome student!) and went on to be the Gallery Coordinator of Fresh Gallery Ōtara. Benjamin Work had his first exhibition proper at Fresh Gallery Ōtara in 2012 in my outgoing show there, WWJD: What Would Jim Do? and ten years on, has just opened a significant solo show at Bergman Gallery in central Auckland entitled, To’a Motu, the title of his first work shown at Fresh Gallery Ōtara.

Gratitude to Davina from Koleta Pacific Boutique for skill sharing and talanoa whilst mixing Vunilagi Vou’s first bowl in East Tāmaki!

Vinaka vakalevu to our neighbouring business, Koleta Pacific Boutique, whose owner-operator, Davina, kindly came by to share some tips on mixing kava and with a lot of laughter, helped christen Vunilagi Vou East Tāmaki with our first bowl!

Our VV First Fridays programme is an evolving currently unfunded kaupapa; there are some exciting ideas in the pipeline including film screenings, skill-sharing exchanges and talks inspired by the environmental context of the Ōtara waterways and wetlands. In this new time-space of East Tāmaki, it’s great to feel grounded again in the energy of the greater Ōtara area, and the creative ecology, community and networks, that Vunilagi Vou was born from and continues to serve.

Watch this space!

#VVFirstFridays: Dr Sione Faletau

This month Vunilagi Vou kicks off a new event programme at the new East Tāmaki site called VV First Fridays!

On the first Friday of every month, Vunilagi Vou will host an artist talk, thematic talanoa, film screening or workshop centring Moana Pacific art and ideas. Friday nights on Bishop Lenihan Place are abuzz with eateries and bubble tea rooms – a perfect chaser after what promises to be inspiring, sometimes challenging and always thought-provoking talanoa!

This Friday 9 September is the first of the event series acknowledging Tongan Language Week (4-10 September) with local Ōtara-based interdisciplinary artist and researcher, Dr Sione Faletau.

Come and learn about how Sione’s research in Tongan values and the semiotics of sound and design shapes and informs his impressive interdisciplinary practice.

🌺 Doors open at 6pm, Friday 9 September 2022
🌺 #VVFirstFridays is proudly an alcohol-free kaupapa – kava, tea and coffee available
🌺 Koha is welcome! #VVFirstFridays is currently unfunded
🌺 Parking is available outside the main gate of 15 Bishop Lenihan Place
🌺 Vunilagi Vou is located at Suite 14, 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, South Auckland

Artwork credit: “Ongo Ongo” (still), 2022, digital video by Dr Sione Faletau

#VVxET Open Day and South Auckland art history

On Saturday 27 August 2022, Vunilagi Vou’s newest site – VVxET – opens in East Tāmaki, South Auckland!

Instead of a traditional night time opening, VVxET will launch with an Open Day inviting the public to check out the new site, including the gorgeous stockroom and retail area, exhibition space and north-facing verandah!

VVxET is located on the edge of the Ōtara Stream

Tucked away at the back of the Botany South Business Estate at 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, the new Vunilagi Vou premises has a pretty fascinating whakapapa of art dealing and appreciation. Built in 2004, the owner of the building established the ground floor as a small art dealership called I Like Gallery. Run on an appointment-only basis, gallerist Richard Jeffery ONZM, designed a perfectly formed exhibition space with high spec lighting and clean sight lines. It was immediately obvious how good parties would have been in this space!

Of all the commercial leases in all of Manukau / South Auckland, it seems somewhat divinely guided that Vunilagi Vou has ended up here, in a ready-made gallery, on the edge of the Ōtara Stream just 3 kilometres away from Fresh Gallery Ōtara, where it all began 16 years ago!

Maka (2022), a mauri stone by Niuean artist, Chris van Doren

To launch the new exhibition space and ease back into exhibition-making after a 12 month hiatus, a collection of work has been assembled to represent Vunilagi Vou’s Moana Pacific arts community and two decades of professional practice and loving investment into Manukau / South Auckland art history.

The exhibition features recent and archival works by Nigel Borell, Ercan Cairns, Chris van Doren, Dr Sione Faletau, Antonio Filipo, Tanu Gago, Leilani Kake and Niutuiatua Lemalu.

Putiputi (2022) video still by Leilani Kake

The Vunilagi Vou stockroom is also full with works by Cypris Afakasi, David Garcia, Julia Mage’au Gray, Marcus Hipa, Rebecca Ann Hobbs & Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho, Sara Moana, Siliga David Setoga, Pati Solomona Tyrell, Manuha’apai Vaeatangitau and more!

The children’s book, The Legend of Tanovo and Tautaumolau by Kaliopate Tavola and Ema Tavola, in both English and Fijian, is now back in stock, alongside an eclectic collection of accessories, publications, patches and posters!

After this weekend’s Open Day, VVxET will be open Thursday to Saturday from 10am – 2pm, and by appointment.

VVxET Open Day is open to the public this Saturday 27 August from 10am until 6pm all welcome!

Keep up to date on Vunilagi Vou activity via Instagram and Twitter.

#VVxET Open Day – Postponed until 27.08.22 – New Moon, New Space!

Vunilagi Vou’s beautiful fourth site was almost ready to open to the public on Wednesday 17 August 2022 from 10am until 6pm but then I caught Covid!

Having opened three sites since 2019 with boozy evening events, this new site calls in a new era, so appropriately, Saturday 27 August offers the lunar energies of a New Moon!

The open day now taking place on Saturday 27 August 2022 is an open invite to the public to check out VVxET between 10am – 6pm. For anyone still around at 6pm, Bishop Lenihan Place in East Tāmaki is abuzz on Saturday nights; multiple Korean barbecue spots, Bubble tea houses (Hulucat and Wucha), Love Asia, 100 Spicy, Mui Japanese Restaurant all offer excellent options for cheap eats on a weekend in the Southside!

More details to come on an opening exhibition that eases Vunilagi Vou back into exhibition-making mode after a year out of the game, and more details on finding this unassuming little secret spot in semi-industrial East Tāmaki, South Auckland heartland!

What: Open Day for VVxET – Vunilagi Vou’s new East Tāmaki site

Where: Unit 14, Botany South Business Estate, 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, South Auckland

When: 10am – 6pm, Saturday 27 August 2022

#VVxET & Celebrate Aotearoa Glen Innes – The Rebound!

On 17 August 2021, Vunilagi Vou in partnership with Celebrate Aotearoa (led by Tongan designer, Czarina Wilson) were operating in partnership out of The Alexander Cafe in Ōtara, South Auckland. Having built on several opportunities to collaborate, the partnership was pretty dreamy: Vunilagi Vou was making shows in the cafe space, Celebrate Aotearoa had built an awe-inspiring maximalist retail environment on the cafe’s mezzanine floor, and the Māori-Pacific owned cafe was an exciting hub for locals and professionals working in the area.

Visiting artists Aimee Ratana, Iokapeta Magele-Suamasi and Nigel Borell with resident artist-entrepreneurs Ema Tavola & Czarina Wilson, The Alexander Cafe, June 2021

Recently, the outgoing Covid-19 minister, Chris Hipkins, noted that Auckland’s last lockdown in 2021, “may have gone on too long” – a sentiment that hit hard. That lockdown, which started on 17 August 2021, was a dealbreaker. Aucklanders were already fatigued, the pandemic was wearing resilience levels down; so many were suffering in different ways, and parents home-schooling and managing parental demands and expected to work with office-level productivity, were put under tremendous strain.

For Vunilagi Vou, the lockdown meant cancelling events with no known timeframe for re-scheduling, returning grant money and watching the delicate momentum of our third site weaken every day. Whilst government subsidies allowed many small businesses to keep afloat during lockdown, it was the mental and spiritual hit that was perhaps the most debilitating for Vunilagi Vou.

In late 2021, the decision was made to pack down operations at The Alexander Cafe and work with the ebbs and flows of the Covid climate by withdrawing entirely from producing exhibitions and events. Focus was put instead on consultancy work, writing projects and pop-ups, whilst reflecting heavily on what was even possible for small scale creative enterprises in the age of Covid.

Celebrate Aotearoa continued to operate at The Alexander Cafe, but was strategising next steps to keep building on the strong customer base and longer term agenda to find space for not only retail but for making and producing.

Whilst much of Vunilagi Vou’s gallery-based assets had been stored, redistributed and sold, a TradeMe search reminder for commercial leases in the Manukau City and Ōtāhuhu areas kept the idea of a new space quietly alive.

Eastside calling

Earlier this year, working in partnership with long-time friend and colleague, Kiri Nathan, Czarina Wilson started to plant seeds to shift Celebrate Aotearoa operations from South Auckland back to the Eastside – Glen Innes, where both Kiri and Czarina grew up and have deep roots.

After operating from a converted shipping container at The Ōtara Kai Village (2020) and the mezzanine floor in a refurbished factory at The Alexander Cafe (2021-2022), this month Celebrate Aotearoa is re-opening in an amazing new retail space smack bang in the middle of Glen Innes at 3/260 Apirana Avenue, across the road from the Glen Innes train station!

Creative entrepreneurs who do all the things!

After securing Creative New Zealand investment from the Pacific Creative Enterprise initiative, a new pathway emerged for Vunilagi Vou. A property became available that could not have been more perfect: built in 2004, the ground floor commercial space had only ever functioned as a small dealer gallery, fitted out with high spec lighting and a hanging system. Amazingly, the north-facing property is located in East Tāmaki, a stone’s throw from Ōtara, and positioned on the edge of environmentally protected wetlands surrounding the Ōtara Stream.

Another year, another fit-out!

VVxET, Vunilagi Vou’s fourth iteration, is going to re-open symbolically, alongside Celebrate Aotearoa on Wednesday 17 August, marking one year since the start of Auckland’s longest lockdown in 2021. This important milestone also represents the strength of conviction, mental, spiritual and physical labour that both these operations have honed being led by independent, Moana Pacific creatives striving to hold space and create economic growth for the communities we are part of.

It has taken a year of heavy energies, soul searching, a few breaking points, some big sacrifices and a few attempted exit strategies (Wellington, Waiheke, the Far North…), and amazingly not catching Covid, but Celebrate Aotearoa and Vunilagi Vou are on the rebound.

We are both re-opening for business on Wednesday 17 August in our new respective locations:

Celebrate Aotearoa x Glen Innes

3/260 Apirana Avenue, Glen Innes, Auckland
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9am – 5pm, Saturday 9am – 1pm
For updates + info: Instagram | Facebook

Vunilagi Vou x East Tāmaki

Suite 14, 15 Bishop Lenihan Place, East Tāmaki, Auckland
Opening Day Drop-in Hours: 10am – 6pm
Usual Opening Hours: Thursday – Saturday, 10am – 2pm
Appointments available outside of opening hours get in touch here.

Whilst not working in the same site anymore, Vunilagi Vou and Celebrate Aotearoa will always have each other’s backs!

Support Moana Pacific small businesses! Support women in business! Support mothers who make! And help tautoko two mates who have gotten up after every knock back, cackled, and started again!

Wishing Celebrate Aotearoa a massive opening season! Get along to check out what a master visual merchandiser working back her hood can do!