Let’s Play Outside – New work by Niu Lemalu

Please join us to celebrate the re-start of Vunilagi Vou’s 2023 season of solos programme after an unplanned hiatus!

On Wednesday 30 August, we welcome guests to Vunilagi Vou to celebrate the opening of an exhibition of new paintings by Sāmoan painter, Niu Lemalu.

OPENING: 6pm, Wednesday 30 August 
EXHIBITION DATES: 31 August - 14 October 2023

Suite 14 / 15 Bishop Lenihan Place
East Tāmaki
South Auckland

+ Parking outside the main gate and on Bishop Lenihan Place

GALLERY OPENING HOURS: 10am - 2pm, Thurs - Sat
+ Viewing by appointment any other time
APPOINTMENTS: hello@vunilagivou.com

Let’s Play Outside has been produced with support from Boosted x Moana donors and Creative New Zealand.


A postponed programme + the realities of being a one-woman gallery

Today, we were scheduled to open South Auckland-based Sāmoan painter, Niu Lemalu’s solo exhibition, Let’s Play Outside. The exhibition project, that has been supported with last year’s BoostedxMoana crowdfunding effort, has been a joy to curate. Niu started making a new body of work at the end of last year and has been working solidly since then. He showed two new paintings in Vunilagi Vou’s Aotearoa Art Fair booth, which offered us excellent insights to where his work sits in the wider contemporary art landscape.

Niu Lemalu and Genevieve Pini’s solo shows were programmed to run back-to-back with my own solo, Backbone, opening up Vunilagi Vou’s ‘season of solos’ in April.

Whilst Backbone was opened and closed without disruption, and a really lovely way to break in the gallery for 2023, I found out that I’m needing to have a fairly major surgery in July, so our ‘season of solos’ programme has hit a small obstacle and is being pushed out by two months.

Such is life for a one-woman operation; there are no staffing back-ups for Vunilagi Vou, so major gratitude to Niu and Genevieve for rolling with the punches. Gratitude also to everyone who has offered support, kindness and advice as we navigate these unknown waters.

Our new dates are now confirmed, and opening Niu’s solo, Let’s Play Outside will now feel like even more of a milestone!

Genevieve Pini’s new exhibition dates are also confirmed as 26 October – 10 December 2023 – her first ever solo, Muscle Memory will be a beautiful exhibition project to round out a big year!

The VV First Fridays event series will also be on hold for August. But July’s event is going to be a goody! Inspired by recent political rhetoric amongst New Zealand’s right-wing parties denouncing the existence of systemic racism and White Privilege in New Zealand health system, we are turning political rage (slash disbelief) into beautiful expressions of visual resistance.

Inspired by the Reap What You Sew (2017) project by US artist, Stephanie Syjuco and her excellent free resource, “Making Protest Banners: Tips + Tricks”, Vunilagi Vou is excited to hold space for some experimentation, talanoa and inspiration.

Materials + snacks provided, and assistance from excellent Tongan designer and textile artist, Czarina Wilson.

Registration is open to Moana artists and communities, and those from our creative and cultural ecologies: click here to secure a spot.

I’m excited to be speaking next week at the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Arts Educators conference in Wellington. Perhaps especially meaningful because the venue for my presentation is Wellington High School, where I had powerful and transformative experiences as a student who only really enjoyed going to art classes. I’ll be discussing some of the wider philosophies of Vunilagi Vou in a paper entitled, Holding Space for Decolonisation in South Auckland.

Vunilagi Vou sits on the edge of this pocket of environmentally protected wetlands in East Tāmaki, South Auckland.

Whilst it’s wind-down time in preparation for surgery, I’m focused on the other side of recovery and look forward to sharing space with folx in late August and onwards.

BACKBONE kicks off a season of solos at Vunilagi Vou x East Tāmaki

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.

Racism is Tiring (2023) | Textile assemblage | 900x1420mm

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.

VV x Aotearoa Art Fair

With support from Creative New Zealand, Vunilagi Vou presented a salon of South Auckland at the 2023 Aotearoa Art Fair (2-5 March) at The Cloud on Auckland’s waterfront.

It was a privilege to present new, recent and archival work by Nigel Borell, Dr Sione Faletau, Leilani Kake, Niu Lemalu, Genevieve Pini and Leilani Kake, alongside an historic portrait by Johanna Van Massop.

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.

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!