Friday, September 02, 2016

Tongan artists on the move

'My people are great navigators, so we're not afraid of travel', Visesio Siasau said last year, after receiving the Wallace Award at a ceremony at Auckland's Pah Homestead. Winners of the Wallace are invited to live and make art in New York City for six months, and a member of the audience at Pah Homestead had wondered whether Visesio was awed by the prospect of exchanging the potholed streets and coconut trees of Tonga for the city that never sleeps.

Visesio has not been the only Tongan artist on the move. This week three members of Nuku'alofa's avant-garde Seleka Club are bringing their kava bowl and their paintbrushes to Wellington, where they'll be guests of Massey University, and the visionary muralist Benjamin Work is travelling to Siasau's new hometown, where he'll be delivering a lecture about the ideograms on ancient Tongan war clubs and other fascinating matters at the Museum of Modern Art.

I had my tongue firmly in my cheek when I suggested a few years ago that Nuku'alofa might usurp New York as a centre of culture, but the successes of Siasau, the Selekarians, Work and a number of other Tongan artists confirm to me that the Friendly Islands have something unique to teach the world.

I'm trying to persuade the Selekarians to stop in Auckland on their way home from Wellington and paint a mural in my kids' bedroom. I'll post some photographs if I'm successful.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

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