Spitting on the artist
On three separate occasions, members of the police force confronted and interrogated the artist. During the last of these grillings, the artist handed his inquisitors a letter from the gallery's manager, which explained the institution's support for his work. A policeman tore the piece of paper up, and the artist decided that the time had come for him to end his show.
The events I've been described didn't occur in Solzhenitsyn's Soviet Union, or in the Ayatollahs' Iran, but in the east Auckland suburb of Pakuranga, where Kalisolaite 'Uhila performed Mo'ui Tukuhausia, or Living Homeless, for two weeks in 2012.
We New Zealanders like to consider ourselves a tolerant, enlightened people. We chuckle when we see the televangelists of America or the mullahs of the Middle East condemn a pop song with naughty lyrics or a film with nude scenes as an insult to the Almighty; we shake our heads when we read about the arrest of demonstrators demanding democracy in China.
When Kalisoliate 'Uhila donned the tattered black uniform of a tramp and took up residence in the grounds of Te Tuhi gallery, though, he soon showed the limits of our tolerance and enlightenment. The sanctity of private property; the separation of our private, embarrassingly intimate, and public, respectable lives; the moral necessity of work: all of these solemn principles of our society seemed mocked by the silent man in black.
This year Mo'ui Tukuhausia was nominated for the Walters Prize, New Zealand's most prestigious art award. At the request of the Auckland City Art Gallery, Kalisoliate 'Uhila has just finished a three month reprise of the work that made him a familiar and sometimes controversial figure on the pavements and in the parks of our central city. In the latest of my series of essays for the online arts journal EyeContact, I've tried to counter the criticisms that 'Uhila has faced, and linked his performances with some of the radical intellectual and artistic traditions of his native Tonga.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]