Story: Pacific arts in New Zealand

Page 1. Pacific arts and artists

All images & media in this story

The contribution of Pacific people and art to New Zealand creative arts since the 1960s has been hugely significant.

In the decades after the Second World War, New Zealand became home to substantial communities from other island nations of the wider Pacific. These peoples brought with them art practices and art forms from their homelands, which they continued to use and maintain. These became key sources of inspiration for New Zealand-born artists of Pacific heritage. At the same time, artists of Pacific heritage drew directly from their experiences of living in New Zealand (in particular their urban environment). Some utilised technology such as photography, film and social media.

The new generation

In 2012 Auckland museum curator Fulimalo Pereira described emerging artists of Pacific heritage who ‘create where they reside and exhibit, sing, dance, paint, act and recite wherever it pleases them. The traditional “centre” of art in New Zealand has little currency; the endorsement they seek comes from their community, their peers, who are not to be found at the “centre”. Their works are influenced by a new world of technological potential and expressed through refreshed vocabularies of meaning, free of the old centre and energised by new possibilities.’1

Shifting position

The first generation of New Zealand-based artists of Pacific heritage to be recognised included singer Mavis Rivers, songwriter and pop singer Terry Fidow (also known as Terry Dean), poet Alistair Campbell and poet and fiction writer Albert Wendt. Generally they produced some of their finest work within the conventions of European genres. Artists of Pacific heritage of the 1980s and 1990s were less bound by these genres, but still thought in mainstream terms: ‘good’ art was approved by the artistic mainstream and took place within it. The generation that emerged in the 2000s rejected these categories.

Dynamism and broad appeal

Pacific arts produced in New Zealand are dynamic and innovative. In the 2010s they were diverse and growing in importance and appeal. Artists of Pacific heritage were community-focused, globally connected, young and high-achieving.

In 2011 research undertaken by Creative New Zealand (the primary government arts funding agency) found that artists of Pacific heritage and their arts had a growing appeal to a broad range of audiences throughout New Zealand. It found that 88% of people surveyed who had attended a Pacific arts event in the previous 12 months were not of Pacific Island descent.

Art and life

For many Pacific peoples, art, culture and daily life are not separated. The various spaces where art, culture and life are at play portray the living dynamism and innovation of the Pacific arts scene in New Zealand. These creative spaces include church (in particular special occasions such as White Sunday), island-specific independence-day celebrations, birthdays, hair-cutting ceremonies, anniversary celebrations, funerals and graduations. In such contexts there is creativity and innovation galore.

  1. Fulimalo Pereira, ‘Arts specific: Pacific peoples and New Zealand arts.’ In Tangata o le moana: New Zealand and the people of the Pacific, edited by Sean Mallon, Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai and Damon Salesa. Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2012, p. 333. Back
How to cite this page:

Kolokesa U. Māhina-Tuai, 'Pacific arts in New Zealand - Pacific arts and artists', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 April 2024)

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