In his copiously illustrated book In Search of Paradise
, Graham Lay discusses the succession of northern hemisphere artists and writers, from Melville to Gauguin to Jack London, who have visited the Pacific Islands in search of inspiration.
Now a group of painters, sculptors, photographers, and performance artists are about to put a new spin on the palangi tradition Lay described. The members of the No'o Fakataha arts collective may be based in the chilly latitudes of New Zealand, but they have their roots in Tonga, and next week they will be visiting the island of Tongatapu to show off their work. The painters, sculptors, tapa makers, photographers, and performance artists of No'o Fakataha will be installing some of their work at Nuku'alofa's 'Atenisi Institute, giving talks and workshops for interested locals, and hanging out around kava bowls.
I've illustrated this 'Atenisi Institute press release with some (clumsy) photographs I took at the extraordinary exhibition No'o Fakataha mounted last year in Mangere. Tomorrow I'll post profiles of the individual members of this remarkable collective.
'Atenisi gets set to celebrate Tongan-New Zealand art
Press Release by the 'Atenisi Institute
Next week the 'Atenisi Institute will be the proud host of No'o Fakataha, a group of New Zealand-based Tongan artists. No'o Fakataha includes painters, sculptors, photographers, tapa makers, and performance artists. Some of its members, like the veteran sculptor Filpe Tohi, are well-known figures in the art world, while others are just beginning their careers.
No'o Fakataha members held an exciting exhibition at the Mangere East Art Centre last year, and they are visiting Tonga next week to show off their work and to take inspiration from the landscape and people of their ancestral homeland. Artworks by members of No'o Fakataha will be shown at the 'Atenisi Institute, and artists will be give talks and workshops at the Institute.
Dr Scott Hamilton, the Associate Dean of the 'Atenisi Institute, saw No'o Fakataha's show at Mangere last year. "I was greatly impressed by both the quality and the variety of the work on display" Hamilton says.
Hamilton says that the No'o Fakataha artists were likely to create debate on Tongatapu, where modern art is rarely put on display.
"The performance artist Kalisolaite 'Uhila has created a lot of controversy in New Zealand because of his unusual methods and the difficult subjects his work addresses" Hamilton says. "At Mangere he pretended to cook himself in an umu. Recently in Wellington he lived in a shipping crate for days, in a tribute to his uncle, who stowed away on a boat to New Zealand back in the 1970s. He has also lived on the street in dirty clothes to make a point about homeless and racism."
Hamilton says that the young sculptor Visesio Siasau is another No'o Fakataha artist who is likely to fascinate and excite Tongatapu audiences. "Visesio uses modern materials like Perspex in his sculptures" says Hamilton, "but he honours the ancient Gods of Tonga by mixing them with Christian images and motifs. At his first exhibition Visesio showed Tangaloa being crucified; at the show in Mangere last year he put Tangaloa alongside the Virgin Mary and Christ."
The acclaimed film-maker Paul Janman is a big fan of No'o Fakataha. Janman is a former teacher at 'Atenisi who made a movie about the institution called Tongan Ark, which has played at film festivals around the world and was recently screened on Sky TV's Rialto channel. "No'o Fakataha is part of an explosion of creativity by Tongans living in Auckland" Janman says. "These artists have one foot in ancient Polynesian society and another in the contemporary West. Because of that they have a perspective palangi artists often lack."
Dr 'Opeti Taliai, the Dean of the 'Atenisi Institute, said that his institution was delighted to be hosting the No'o Fakataha group. "We had a very successful visit last semester by Murray Edmond, the New Zealand playwright, poet, and academic" Taliai says, "and we aim to build on that by hosting No'o Fakataha. Ever since it was founded by Futa Helu fifty years ago 'Atenisi has tried to be a bridge between Tonga and the rest of the world. We have a long tradition of welcoming artists and intellectuals. I look forward to sitting around the kava bowl with the members of No'o Fakataha".