Thursday, May 19, 2016

Killing pigs

Pigs Sacrificed in the Name of Christ was the first Tevita Latu painting I saw, and I'm delighted to discover that it was recently reproduced in an American arts magazine called Fusion.

In 2013 I found Latu's painting hanging in Langafonua, the ramshackle arts and crafts shop on Nuku'alofa's ramshackle main street, where its energy and mystery suddenly made the dolphins and ngatu that Tongans carve and paint for tourists look enervated and empty. I was fascinated by the contrast between Tevita's puaka and the men who are about to feast on the animals. The pigs are huge, and even in death they look powerful and somehow dignified. The men holding them look ugly and insignificant by comparison. Tevita had decorated the pigs with motifs from traditional Tongan art, but left his humans with grey, unadorned flesh. 

When I got to meet Latu at the Seleka Club, the kava shack decorated with psychedelic colours where he and his mates drank and painted, I asked him about the meaning of the work. Was he, I wondered, counterposing the majesty and dignity of the slaughtered puaka with the seediness of the men who would eat them? Did he lament the way that the puaka, a creature that had been the ceremonial and conceptual centre of many traditional cultures of the Pacific, and could only be consumed after august rituals, had become, in the commercialised twenty-first century, simply a tasty snack, like a Big Mac or piece of KFC?

Tevita Latu smiled, and said he didn't mind if I interpreted his painting like that. He'd intended it, though, as a sort of intra-Christian polemic. He disapproved of the greed and vulgarity of some of Tonga's churches, and the nice cars and huge guts that the ministers of these churches increasingly boasted. Too many Tongan Christians were using their 'Otua as an excuse for conspicuous consumption, and the feasts that accompanied many church events had become grotesquely protracted and expensive. You can see Pigs Sacrificed in the Name of Christ and other works by Tevita Latu and his fellow Seleka Cub member Taniela Potelo at the Fusion website.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

12:51 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

His other art on Fusion is brilliant also. He says he was influenced by Basquiat and Picasso. The Picasso influence can be seen. But there are so many good graffiti and street art artists that might affect his work.

Very intense art.

8:42 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

I didn't think about the Basquiat connection before, Richard, but it's obviously there, isn't it? I guess Basquiat has suffered a bit from the hype around this work. Nevertheless, I think some of his stuff is arresting. Tevita Latu and his club have a big exhibition opening next Thursday at their refurbished kava shack: it should be a real event. Alas, I won't be there!

5:56 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I didn't see it either, Tevita Latu mentioned those two as two of his influences. I thought of Polynesian art and modernism. Picasso hadn't occurred to me either, but then I remembered his famous one with the women whose faces look like masks: I forget the name or can't spell it as it is in French and languages (apart from English) are generally difficult for me to remember. Especially names. But Street Art and Graffiti in general is almost now a big "tradition".

I can admire all these things from a distance but drinking kava or booze from a toilet is not my idea of fun. But the Seleka Club have my blessing for what it's worth! But they are young people and when you are young there is always hope, one believes in things! Death doesn't exist for the young which is good....

10:22 am  
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