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Story: Pacific arts in New Zealand

Dynamic, vibrant and innovative, the work of Pacific artists has had a significant impact in New Zealand. Pacific writers, visual artists, musicians, dancers and theatre practitioners draw inspiration from both the art forms of their homelands and urban life in New Zealand.

Story by Kolokesa U. Māhina-Tuai
Main image: Detail from Teuane Tibbo, 'Samoan village scene'

Story Summary

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In the later 20th century many Pacific Islanders emigrated to New Zealand, bringing their art forms and practices. These became sources of inspiration for New Zealand-born artists of Pacific heritage, who also drew on their experiences of life in New Zealand.

The work of artists of Pacific heritage is seen both within the mainstream arts scene and in Pacific cultural settings such as church, independence-day celebrations and traditional ceremonies.

Visual arts and literature

The first exhibitions by artists of Pacific heritage were in the 1960s. In the 1980s Samoan painter Fatu Feu’u and other artists formed a support network and set up a gallery in Auckland.

In the 1990s two major exhibitions were held focusing on Pacific work. Artists included Niki Hastings-McFall, Ani O’Neill, John Pule and Michel Tuffery. A 2012 exhibition of Pacific art at the Auckland Art Gallery also included arts such as weaving, embroidery and tapa cloth.

Poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell (of Cook Islands heritage) and Samoan fiction writer and poet Albert Wendt were Pacific writing pioneers. They were followed by fiction writers Sia Figiel and John Pule.

In the 2010s poets such as Tusiata Avia and Karlo Mila-Schaaf were known for performing their work. New voices included the South Auckland Poets Collective and Courtney Sina Meredith.

Music and performance

The most visible contribution of artists of Pacific heritage to mainstream arts has been in performing arts – music, dance, theatre, film and television.

Musicians of Pacific heritage in the 1960s included Samoan singer Mavis Rivers, Tongan guitarist Bill Sevesi and Samoan singing group the Yandall Sisters. Later musicians included Ladi6, Che Fu and Brooke Fraser, and classical singers Iosefa Enari and Ben Makisi.

Black Grace and MAU were successful dance companies, while the Palace Dance Studio excelled at hip hop dance.

Actor and writer Oscar Kightley was a member of theatre group Pacific Underground and comedy group the Naked Samoans, who produced the animated TV show bro’Town and the feature film Sione’s wedding. Other film directors included Sima Urale (O tamaiti) and Tusi Tamasese (The orator).

Grassroots arts

Pacific arts such as weaving, crochet, tapa making and music are practised by master artists, working alone or in groups. Some use contemporary materials. Their work is seen at events such as the Pasifika Festival, Polyfest and community and church events.

Auckland arts

Auckland is a hub for Pacific arts, with major events including the Pasifika Festival, Style Pasifika and the Southside Arts Festival. Arts are sold at markets in South Auckland, which is also the base for many creative groups.

How to cite this page:

Kolokesa U. Māhina-Tuai, 'Pacific arts in New Zealand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/pacific-arts-in-new-zealand (accessed 22 April 2018)

Story by Kolokesa U. Māhina-Tuai, published 22 Oct 2014