13 Mar 2016

TAUTAI / NAVIGATE - Celebrating 30 years of Contemporary Pacific Arts

From Spectrum, 12:15 pm on 13 March 2016
A painting by artist Fatu Feu'u. The work is called Otautahi Fono.

Fatu Feu'u - Otautahi Fono. Photo: By permission of Tautai Contemporary Art Trust.

"It all started with Fatu" ~ Lily Aitui Laita

Artist and educator Lily Aitui Laita is adamant – Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust began with one man, artist Fatu Feu'u.

It was 1985 when Feu'u first exhibited a collection of his own paintings under the name 'Tautai'. At the time, there was little understanding of the idea of contemporary art made by artists of Pacific heritage although individual artists like sculptor Johnny Penisula had been exhibiting their work since the early 1970s.

Thirty years later, Tautai is celebrating with a retrospective group exhibition of the the way sailed so far.

A rock sculpture by Johnny Penisula. The work is called Atini Pupu.

Johnny Penisula - Atini Pupu. Photo: By permission of Tautai Contemporary Art Trust.

Tautai evolved from an exhibition into a gallery space on Auckland's Karangahape Road run by young artists like Lily Aitu Laita.

"It was a venue; a way to gather, to meet, to socialise. People like... Jim Vivieaere, John Pule, Michael Tuffery and Lyle Penisula. The gallery didn't last... but we made it... a place where people could come together, where people could find Pacific island work."

From very nearly the beginning, a network developed, supporting emerging Pacific artists and helping them to navigate, or tautai, the western art world; not always a comfortable or welcoming place.

A still from a Jasmine Te Hira work called Lost Content.

Jasmine Te Hira - Lost Content. Photo: By permission of Tautai Contemporary Art Trust.

"What I think happened with early artists... was a kind of shock" says Leafa Wilson, the curator for TAUTAI / NAVIGATE. "Not really knowing how they were meant to behave. And more artists are [now] aware they don't actually have to fit into anything. Art is the domain of all."

A sculptural work by artist Lonnie Hutchinson.

Comb (Black) by artist Lonnie Hutchinson. Photo: By permission of Tautai Contemporary Art Trust.

Amiria Puia-Taylor is a young artist and art administrator who uses public art projects to discuss social issues and is an example of the Tautai process. Thanks in part to receiving a Tautai-administered internship at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in 2014, she feels able to navigate her way through the various worlds she inhabits.

I can go in with no shoes, I can go in with my painter clothes (on) and I feel it's OK. I can pick and choose how I want to reflect and behave. If I feel it's a hard-out Western environment, I have this natural way of being more brown. I want to show it off, I want to be heard and I also want to educate. And in a completely brown situation, I feel at home; I can put my hair down and I'm cool.

Two paintings by artist Dagmar Dyck called Encircled Lines II and Encircled Lines I.

Encircled Lines II and Encircled Lines I by artist Dagmar Dyck. Photo: By permission of Tautai Contemporary Art Trust.

Having benefited from the thirty years of hard work, experience and support of those who have come before her, Amiria  is also very certain about the worth of Tautai.

There should be more waka like Tautai.

TAUTAI / NAVIGATE is on at Studio One Toi Tu in Ponsonby, Auckland until 22 March.