16 Jun 2019

Ema Tavola opens a long-needed space for Pacific art

From Standing Room Only, 1:31 pm on 16 June 2019

A new art gallery in South Auckland is promising to promote contemporary Pacific art, to work closely with its community and to encourage collectors by offering art at affordable prices.

Vunilagi Vou has only been open for a few weeks, in Ōtāhuhu, but already it's got the community talking. And talk is just what Gallery Director Ema Tavola was hoping for. She’s created a dedicated space for contemporary Pacific art, and it will be filled with work offering insights into issues that affect the lives of Pacific people.

No caption

Photo: supplied

“All the artists that generally come around me are quite politically aware and using their work to say something about the world they live in and the communities they’re part of, so it’s just about creating a space for that commentary to exist and be visible with an agenda of enabling Pacific people to reflect on their lives without having for it to be filtered through an art world lens or a gallery agenda or a museum agenda but just straight up real talk for Pacific artists.”

The inaugural exhibition features 13 artists and represents that depth and breadth of Tavola’s curatorial position.

They are artists such as Tanu Gago who reflects on the need to make visible Pacific and Samoan LGBTQI lives and Leilani Kake who speaks to the often-darker areas of our lives shrouded in shame. Kake’s work for this exhibition looks at stereotypes of criminality and has been informed by having family members in jail.

“There are some heavy issues in there, there’s some body politics, a lot of work around memory and nostalgia, the lived experience of colonialism and now here and now and faith – faith in God and our faiths in culture as the backbone in our communities.”

Tavola says while she will feature already established artists, she’s also interested in emerging artists.

"There’s not many opportunities for emerging Pacific artists to show work, to experiment with ideas and to test their ideas with their own communities,” she says.

Ema Tavola

Ema Tavola Photo: Supplied

In 2006, Tavola co-founded Fresh Gallery in Ōtara and during her time there produced monthly shows. She says there are plenty of artists to show and she wants to focus on those overlooked by the mainstream.

The community is a big part of the gallery, she says.

“Our community has been waiting for a place to gather and break bread and generate new and ideas. For a long time, Fresh Gallery Ōtara and my time there was that, our openings were these amazing eclectic gatherings of all sorts of people and so many projects came out of that space.”

Vunilagi Vou will have new openings each month, on the first Tuesday of the month, and everyone is invited to come through and be part of the culture, she says.

Tavola says for the next exhibition, the Cook Island owner of the neighbouring shop will be showing embroidery together with her sister and mother, alongside curator of Māori Arts at Auckland Art Gallery Nigel Burrell. She says it’s about feeding into the everyday communities and looking at the breadth of creative practice and how it sits in our lives.