In Koe Tau’atāina o e Leitī (The Freedom/ Emancipation of the Leitī), Tongan New Zealand artist Manuaha’apai Vaeatangitau (or Manu Vaea for short) deals in “radical honesty” about her experiences as a fakaleitī or Tongan third gender person.
Known for her work with the collective FAFSWAG and Neon/Prime TV show Not Even, the Pātaka Art + Museum exhibition in Porirua reveals other sides to Manu Vaea. An artist equally comfortable as a poet, performer and illustrator, she works here with photography, moving image and painting.
The work is both of the spiritual and the mundane, glamorous and lighthearted yet connecting to a darkness in the celestial realm. It is both of the present and rooted in pre-Christian Tongan cultural traditions.
“I think the ordinary is important,” says Manu, “especially for people who are leiti or fa’afafine, because within our own communities our lives are projected into this really hypersexual or deviant place.
“So when I’m making something like the video work A Mundane Manifesto, ultimately it’s a form of grounding. We exist here in reality with you, not apart from you.”
The exhibition represents the culmination of Vaea’s three-month Aniva Arts Residency at Pātaka, a partnership between the museum and Creative New Zealand. Known for its representation of Pacific artists, reflecting its diverse Porirua community, this year Pātaka celebrates its 25th birthday.
Manu received the Creative New Zealand and Massey University Arts and Creativity Award at the 2019 Prime Minister's Pacific Youth Awards. She is currently filming a second season of Not Even.
Koe Tau’atāina o e Leitī (The Freedom/ Emancipation of the Leitī) is on at Pātaka until 11 February.