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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Pacific Arts Aotearoa edited by Lana Lopesi

Pacific Arts Aotearoa, edited by renowned Pacific writer and scholar Lana Lopesi captures the powerful and dynamic legacy of Pacific Arts in New Zealand over six decades. This massive book, over 550 pages, includes contributions from more than 120 artists, curators, and community voices. A timeline and 300 images are also included, a phenomenal achievement.

It has been beautifully designed by Shaun Naufahu who created the typeface named ‘Koloa Tuku, meaning legacy in Tongan, and chose its colour scheme which references a tīvaevae and evokes that Pacific feeling.

In Pacific Arts Aotearoa, 98 Pacific artists share their stories. Many of the artists attributed their success to others who had supported them in their journey, and how they had benefited greatly from the Pacific way of working collectively.

Woven through the stories, which are arranged chronologically, are chapters in which deep dives are taken by experts into significant exhibitions, moments, and artworks.

When they arrived in the 1960s, grass roots artists brought their traditional arts with them, like weaving, tattooing, tivaevae and crochet, and continued to practice these in Aotearoa. They are celebrated alongside those who were born here and went on to reinterpret their traditional art forms in response to contemporary Western Arts.

Amongst these were musicians, sculptors, photographers, actors, and dancers. Some New Zealand-born Pacific artists spread their wings even further and achieved considerable fame overseas. All together these artists have contributed to a vibrant, huge Pacific Arts legacy which will continue to grow.

As I read Pacific Arts Aotearoa, there were many familiar names. Fatu Feu’u, the elder statesman of Pacific Art in Aotearoa who has nurtured many Pacific artists, writer Albert Wendt and Oscar Kightley, the actor and television presenter, are in there, of course. As well as Neil Ieremia, who founded the Black Grace Dance Company and multi-talented John Pule, a painter, poet, and printmaker.

Women, too, are well represented, to name just a few: comedian Rose Matafeo, multidisciplinary artist Janet Lilo, printmaker Dagmar Dyck, Selina Tusitala Marsh, our former New Zealand Poet Laureate and hip-hop artist Parris Goebel.

But there were also a great many artists who I had never heard of which is indicative of the structural exclusion and non-publishing of the works of many Pacific artists over the last 60 years. By including them in this book they have been acknowledged and their names and their artistry will not be forgotten.

It was important for Pacific Arts Aotearoa to be published now as some of our Pacific artists have already passed, like Lily Laita, a trailblazer who died recently. She was the first Pasifika woman to graduate from Elam School of Fine Arts and became a renowned artist and outstanding art teacher.

When I was Head of Art at a Secondary school, where my students were predominantly Pasifika, I was frustrated by the lack of printed resources available about Pacific Art. This book, full of inspirational stories from Pacific artists, would have been a treasure trove and opened their eyes to many different pathways they could follow to be successful artists.

The stories of the young Pacific artists in the nineties who refused to be marginalized would have especially resonated with them.

‘No one was waiting for space to be created or to be told who they were. They were finding it, or creating it for themselves, in the form of style, events, music. There was an inherent culture of doing it for themselves, their way unapologetically.’

Hugely inspiring, too, is the new wave of tech-savvy and entrepreneurial young artists who are coming together now in collectives, creative hubs and social spaces. They speak out fearlessly against inequities and are environmentally conscious and climate change activists.

This book is a taonga that teachers of the arts and their students would find invaluable. But Pacific Arts Aotearoa, which so brilliantly showcases the creativity and resilience of Pacific artists over six decades, would also be greatly enjoyed by all art lovers.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Penguin Random House New Zealand


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