MOTHERLAND / HOMELAND | Group exhibition curated by Bonni Tamati with exhibition design by HOEA! | HOEA!, Tūranganui-a-Kiwa

05.07.23 | written by Leafa Wilson

Isaiah Swann, Nakai galo e au a koe – I will never forget you, 2022. digital photograph.
As the daughter of immigrant Samoans, a second-generation Aotearoa-born ‘Pacific Islander’, it took me well into my twenties before I fully understood what the difference was between nationality (I am technically a New Zealander) and ethnicity (ethnically Samoan). I had no real reason to analyse this internally because, to me, my homeland was Samoan, so I always said I was Samoan. When I got my first passport, I blanched at the sight of my nationality being stated as ‘New Zealand’. Doubt I am the only one who finds it strange. 

I guess that same feeling is pervasive for second-generation New Zealand-born people of Pacific Oceanic heritage. Bonni Tamati is a second-generation New Zealand-born Samoan, and this is her first curatorial experience and was the perfect opportunity to bring together quite a disparate group of first, second and Aotearoa indigenous artists of Pasifika descent together for a conversation about very real issues that arise when growing up in the diaspora.
Emily Mafile'o, Fed Up, 2022. digital photograph

To begin to discuss the Oceanic Moana Pasifika connections, ko te mea tuatahi, first things first I must acknowledge the mana whenua Ngāti Oneone, Rongowhakaata, Te Aitanga a Mahaki and Ngāi Tamanuhiri upon whose land we have the privilege of exhibiting. Te mea tuarua, the importance of this particular site for this exhibition acknowledges the historic landing of the ancestor Kiwa. This landing on the East Cape of Te Ika-a-Māui signalled the second wave of Polynesian migrations connecting Aotearoa to the rest of its Oceanic homelands almost a thousand years ago. One of the words that would have been exclaimed throughout the great navigation to Aotearoa would have been: Hoea! Keep on going! In Samoan they would have said alo paopao! This exhibition considers the connection between Tangata Whenua and Tagata o le Moana with joy, kaha, and caring sensitivity for each artist’s personal perspective.

An artistic alliance is also one of the methodologies that is part of the strength, the kaha, of the HOEA! waka. One of these major relationships is with Samoa House Library, (SHL) based in the prominent Maota Samoa on Karangahape Road in central Tāmaki Makaurau managed by Bonni Tamati. Mel (Melanie Tangaere-Baldwin), representing HOEA!, took up one of the artists’ residencies offered by SHL in 2022. As a response to this, Bonni was invited to curate an exhibition for HOEA! The premise of which was to bring together some very established artists, some secondary school artists and some artists who are very current in the Tāmaki Makaurau art scene, all of Moana Pasifika heritage.

Esther Mauga, Not One More Acre, 2022 
The artists in the exhibition includes, P, aka The Doctor (Ngāti Porou/Tongan), Keciano Tufuga (Samoan), Pouarii Tanner (Kuki Airani), Emily Mafile’o (Tongan), Vea Mafileo (Tongan), Esther Mauga (Samoan), and photography students from Liston College in Tāmaki Makaurau: Braiden Leiatuala (Samoan), Isaiah Swann (Niue, Fiji, Tonga), Matekihelea Lea Fakava (Tonga, Cook Islands), Sebastyen Fuiava (Samoan), Pitone Avito (Samoa), Phoenix Mikaele (Samoan), and the oldest person in the exhibition was me, Leafa Wilson (Samoan).

Together, our works formed a conversation that raised subjects of colonial outrage, of being stuck within the cultural rules, of breaking free from cultural norms, and of being citizens of the 21st century both culturally, geographically, and technologically. I don’t want to go through each work either, doing what reviews do, singling out some and not others. Because ultimately our works were intended to be of equal importance in displaying just how we transgress what it is to be an ‘islander’. Bonni and Mel offered us space in Aotearoa to express that distance and nearness we feel to our motherlands and homelands all at once. It was important that it occurred where it did because it was a symbol of that same arrival of the same landing of Kiwa and the early ancestors we share.

For the most part, everything I’ve ever gleaned and observed over the last forty or so years as an artist, but mostly as a curator, revealed that artists who are upwardly mobile (in the Western model of the art world) tend to guard against one’s reputation as a serious artist, and tend not to exhibit again with artists less-famous once they have ‘matriculated’ to major national and international galleries. Because I don’t feel the usual system is necessarily set up for misfits, whanaungatanga (a sense of familial connection), and inconsistent branding like the likes of me, I rejoice in the kaupapa that forms the foundation of HOEA!

This year I am prioritising the sharing of new knowledge, of breaking down barriers and bringing different ideas and understandings to Te Tairāwhiti. For this show, I really wanted to be able to offer our community a way to understand the intentions of our Pasifika peers more and to actively break down ideas of homogeneity.

Creative Director of HOEA! Melanie Tangaere-Baldwin. Personal correspondence, 21 April 2023. 
HOEA! Gallery was founded by Mel Tangaere-Baldwin, Sjionel Timu, Nikora Te Kahu and Rangimarie Makowharemahihi Pahi, and is now run by Mel as creative director/curator and Michelle Kerr as on-site kairaranga, with tautoko from all of their beautiful whānau and friends as well. ‘Hoea’ in te reo Māori, is a navigational exclamation, to push on. It is weighted with a sense of urgency. The kaupapa upon which HOEA! was founded as a response in ways to that sense of urgency for the free and unfettered contemporary experimental contemporary art of Māori to be displayed, experienced and celebrated in a Māori-safe environment, which for us as Moana peoples, made it philosophically and culturally more kindred. Where the privileged methodologies for curating are framed by a tuakana-teina (elder-younger) Māori approach, meaning there are always untrained, younger or less-gallery-savvy artists’ works displayed alongside mid-career, and famous artists of Māori heritage as well as indigenous artists from around the globe. For me, this is the future of galleries in Aotearoa, hoea rā! This has to be the way forward—I bloody well want to be on this waka!
Matikihelea Fakava, She sells sea shells by the sea shore, 2022. digital photograph

Tōia mai ngā waka
e te iwi e
Hoea hoea rā
Aotea, Tainui, Kurahaupo
Hoea hoea rā.

Tōia mai nga waka
e te iwi e
Hoea hoea rā
Matatua, Te Arawa,
Tākitimu, Tokomaru
Hoea hoea rā

"Keep the cooperative work going
Keep up the war effort.
Aotea, Tainui and Kurahaupo tribes
Keep on working together."

"Keep the cooperative work going
Keep the work plan on schedule
Mataatua, Te Arawa,
Takitimu, and Tokomaru peoples
Keep the work going along."1


    1.   An early version of of Hoea Ra was written for the World War I effort by Paraire Henare Tomoana (Ngāti Whatua-i-āpiti/ Ngāti Kahungunu b.1874/5 d. 1946) and later adapted to the version used in contemporary waiata. Retrieved from  

Article image: MOTHERLAND/HOMELAND, 2023. Installation view.

Photos by Tink Lockett,  courtesy of the artists and HOEA!

MOTHERLAND/HOMELAND, at HOEA!, Tūranganui-a-Kiwa in collaboration with Samoa House Library, Tāmaki Makaurau. 14 March – 17 June 2023.

The Doctor, Untitled, 2023. acrylic paint on map

Olga Hedwig Janice Krause (Leafa Wilson), Painting of My Mother Etevise

Braiden Leituala, The evolution of Siva Afi – A Warrior’s Dance, 2022. digital photograph. 

Keciano Tufuga, Race Across America, 2023. acrylic on unstretched canvas

Sebastyen Fuiava, O Measina Samoa (Tresures of Samoa), 2022. digital photograph

Pitone Avito, Poetry In Motion, 2022. digital video still

Pouarii Tanner, P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A., 2022. printed QR code. 

More about the artists

P or The Doctor (Ngāpuhi/Vava’u Tonga) (whose names are used as a form of self-preservation in the public Pākehā art world, simultaneously cancelling Western gender types) presents us with the most visceral of the exhibition’s works, cutting the jugular of any kind of romantic notions we might have of ‘Polynesian’ exhibitions. The cartographic inverted triptych of Aotearoa gets to the point of their work addressing the butchering of indigenous peoples by the Empire and the church. Not just physically but cultural collateral plundered or destroyed due to their superimposition of indigenous religions and practices.

The sentiments of distance from the motherlands of all of the artists are shared in through subtle ways. What emerges via the subtexts throughout are fractured relationships with Empire, governmental policies, internal cultural praxes, and the constance of relocation of the self.

Esther Mauga (they/them/ Salea’aumua, Aleipata, Apia, Vaimaunga/ Pālagi2) was born in Aotearoa and raised in Meanjin, Australia but firmly on the va’a toward the homelands that exist only in Samoan indigenous domains of thought. As a member of The Nikau Project  (with Nicole Hunt, Brooke Pao Stanley and Max Harris) they produce free zines and posters around the histories of activism in Tāmaki Makaurau. On display were a series of Esther’s posters from recent collaborations that remind us about the important consciousness-raising work performed as far back as 1971 in Ponsonby and Grey Lynn suburbs which were considered Polynesian ghettos, now gentrified and inaccessible to almost anybody.

The three photographic works of Emily Mafile’o (Tongan, New Zealand, Māori) speak Tongan-New Zealand experience. Each convey the Tongan-mundane, but more vitally, her experience of her father, her son, and her sister. The various settings are sensitive and imbued with love and honesty. They are still and stoic whereas her sister Vea Mafile’o (Tongan, New Zealand, Māori) and, brother-in-law’s Jeremiah Tauamiti’s (Samoan) film, For My Father’s Kingdom (1 hr, 37 mins, 2019) had a public viewing on the Saturday afternoon of the exhibition, exposed the sinew and bones of how difficult it is to truly exist in two diametrically opposed worlds. The Kingdom of Tonga requires your Tonganness, and for Emily, her sisters and brother whose mother is Pālangi,3 this constant push-pull has become a lifelong toil of love fraught with times of unbalance between their father’s kingdom and being just plain old New Zealanders. The homeland is not distant in their experience.  

Pouarii Tanner (Cook Islands New Zealander) was unable to be present, quite fittingly, her proxy was a QR leading to a filter that she made and titled after a d spatial design work on the Freyberg steps called P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. Her QR code was adorned with an LED ei katu which lit up the dimly lit HOEA! gallery space.4 The light signifies much more than just lighting up the QR code but acts as an abstract space in which she and we diaspora Islanders have to call ourselves indigenous: not on the land of tangata whenua, but in the aether where we have valency and connection to the lands that connect the ocean of Kiwa to us Aotearoa-born, raised or held.

Next to my work of my mother and namesake Hedwig or Etevise in Samoan, were two large paintings by contemporary painter, Keciano Tufuga (Asau/Alafua) who was raised in South Auckland, Tāmaki Makaurau. In terms of painting (formalistic) his works lead us toward a new 21st century digital native vernacular. Elements of line works and lively Samoan colours. His world is open to the conversations from his ancestors and the conversations of his contemporaries. Like the photographic and audio visual works of the young cohort of current and ex-LIston college artists Braiden Leituala (Samoan) work The Evolution of Siva Afi: A Warrior’s Dance, 2023, whose interrogation into the origins of the fire dancing practice are mature and considered.

Isaiah Swann (Niuean/Fijian/Samoan) uses the climate change crisis effects upon Pasifika bodies as their subject. A Pasifika woman embodies all of Moana Pasifika Oceania as her physical body is engulfed by water.

Physicality and the effects of diasporic placement play central roles in the grappling with the distance from homelands. Sebastyen Fuiava (Samoa) and Matekihelea (Lea) Fakava (Tongan/Cook Islands) look at the adornment. Lea’s works questions Tongan gender roles and costuming relevant to each of the lands from which she emerges. Where Sebastyen’s works look toward the artistic traditions of Samoa: tatau and siva. His queries attempt to unveil motifs that are inherent to pe’a, malu, and siva. Motifs that have evolved over the centuries of Samoan interpretations of the natural and spiritual worlds.

Pitone Avito’s (Samoan) video work Poetry in Motion, 2022 references European modernists—one of these is Eadweard Muybridge (English b. 1830 d. 1904) whose sequential photographic images were seminal in the formation of motion pictures. Cubism and Futurism were artistic movements akin to his works. Breaking down the movements of a dance for Pitone is salient from a cultural investigative perspective. In diaspora, minutiae, detail, and observation of these movement, especially for people like me who has never mastered ‘siva’.

The digital video work of Phoenix Mikaele (Samoan) is where I will end this because it takes us toward a place we know exists only in the Vā (te Wa) in dreamspaces and times. A beautiful series of moving images are presented like snippets from various parts of his life/day/environment which is the only kind of Samoan existence he knows in Aotearoa. They are physical images of the current places we (many of us in urban and small town Pasifika communities) inhabit. However familiar these appear, they belie the true Motherland/Homeland that we understand in our pito is within us,5 and is a physical land mass in the ‘sea of islands’ we call ‘home’. The exhibition is the collateral evidence of the notion of what home is and isn’t and to which the exhibition is theoretically tethered.

    2.  Pālagi – Samoan for caucasian person.

    3.  Pālangi – Tongan for caucasian person.

    4.  Ei katu – Cook Islands for a coronet of flowers.

    5.  Pito – in many Polynesian languages the ‘pito’ is the belly-button. It is also the word we use for the spent placenta which is buried in familial lands as a signifier of belonging there.

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