Loketi Niua Latu is a curator and artist of Tongan heritage who currently lives in Melbourne, Australia. Her artistic journey and curational direction is influenced by her Pacific heritage.
Earlier this year Latu curated and exhibited at Fefine Woman : Contemporary represenation of ‘Women Exhibition in Melbourne. The exhibition also featured Nelia Pauline Hoeft-Cocker (Tonga), Leanne Clayton (Samoa) and Lisa Hilli (Papua New Guinea). Fefine, a Pacific language word, translated means ‘woman’. This exhibition brought together four artists whose contemporary art practices draw from their Pacific Islander heritage to celebrate women. The exhibition explored the experiences of being a woman living between cultures, balancing the influence of family values and cultural expectations.
“A little bit of Tonga is always embedded in all my works”. ~ Quote from Star, 1 March 2011.
I talanoa with Loketi about her work.
Tell us a little about your background – what path has led you to what you are doing now?
I’m of Tongan heritage and arrived in Melbourne, Australia in the mid 70’s as my late father was a medical scholarship student. I have lived in Tonga and Australia yo-yo-ing back and forth between the two.
In 2006 I attended Deakin University (Burwood) doing an undergrad arts degree. I fell upon Film Making and immediately began working at SKA TV based at Trades Hall learning about filming, as I got bored with my course. I continued to study and during my mid-term semester, I began filming and editing my first feature documentary film Tonga and Politics. A huge rush job as my mentor at the time Dr Elizabeth Wood-Ellem wanted the film premiered at the Tonga History Association’s (now the Tonga Research Association) conference in Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
I finished it but it was very messy edit cuts and very obvious my camera skills were those of a beginner. I re-edited the film in 2008 and it was premiered at the Australian National University during the Pacific History and Film Conference.
An opportunity arose in 2007 when I was invited to be in Beijing, China by the Tongan Ambassador to China H.E. ‘Emeline Tuita. I was asked to make a documentary on His Majesty King George Tupou V. The film never eventuated.
Thinking back to those events, it was in Beijing where I drew inspiration to do the cultural and artistic works. I recall the moment so clearly – sitting at McDonald’s and looking out to the streets full of people and amongst the billions, a very old, thin, wrinkled in the face man appeared on a three wheeled bicycle. His bike had a homemade trailer attached to the back stacked at least 10 stories high with cardboard. I asked the workers at McDonald’s who he was and they said that he was responsible for collecting all the paper waste on the block. He collected it and delivered it to the paper recycling Depot everyday, rain or shine. He did this unpaid.
This image reminded me of my grandmother Loketi senior lugging her sacks of root crops from the plantation daily. I secretly vowed to return home and do great things. The result is what you see in my work today.
Hon. Lupepau’u Tuita at the opening of Au Mei Moana – Returning Tides: The Tonga Cultural Heritage Exhibition. Tonga, 2010. Curated by Loketi Niua Latu
What challenges have you faced, and what advice would you have for Pacific artists hoping to find representation and exhibit their work?
There are so many challenges, money being the biggest, and then it’s the mindset of people. This is due to, not allowing new ideas to be tried as culturally in the Pacific being an artist, your ideas and curatorial practices often flows against the norm. Then there is the difficulty of balancing home life and art life on a 0 budget.
Gee I don’t think I’m in the realm of giving out advice, as I am still learning in so many ways. From my experience, the most difficult thing as an artist is being brave enough to act on the ideas brewing in one’s head. One has to ignore the filthy feet of doubt walking all over your artistic concepts. You have to be bold to go out and hustle exhibitions.
Artists should not be discouraged to approach other artists who have made it, and ask for help. There will always be someone out there that will say yes when it comes to representing your work. YOU just have to get out there and find them. Do not be afraid to push your own boundaries as you find your artistic niche. Networking is also crucial if you want longevity in the arts.
Fefine Woman : Contemporary represenation of ‘Women Exhibition. Melbourne, February 2011. Curated by Loketi Niua Latu. (Image: Embrace Me | Leanne Clayton | Siapo | 2011 )
Where do you turn for creative inspiration when beginning a new piece?
Usually it’s all in one’s head. Like playing back a video you imagine how things will play out. Then there’s the task of seeking out who out there can see your vision and help you bring it to life. Everything that comes in my path gives me inspiration – people, objects, nature and animals.
As a curator, under budgeting and not paying myself, has been my biggest dilemma but I am learning rapidly about curbing it and making sure everyone is paid properly and on time.
Can you give us a little insight into your creativity – how do you first approach a new design? What favourite materials and tools do you use?
Using Fefine Woman of … photographic series as my example, I had the concept of recontextualising images of Pacific women in Melbourne. I had grown up always seeing Pacific women in prints of engravings drawn during Captain Cook’s voyages to the Pacific. There was always this male aura about them and if it wasn’t labeled to tell the audience whether it was male or female, you just wouldn’t know. My grandmother played an important role in my life, so I also wanted to capture some of the essences of her in the outcome.
I did some research as to how these engravings were done by revisiting the museums and looking at the images. I also emailed Dr Adrienne Kaeppler, and asked her lots of questions. I put the ideas to Lisa Hilli requesting she take the photos and I was left with the task of finding Pacific women willing to sit for the photo shoot, then set up the photoshoot. I was lucky with having the help of Fatima Tausinga as on the day of the shoot, only 6 women turned up. Fatima rallied all her grandmother’s sisters, cousins and friends to complete the 8 women needed for the shoot. I had given away my camera and had not purchased one, so collaborating with Lisa was the best option.
In postproduction my graphic designer Dale Mark Ackermann edited the images with my ideas, and hoping he could bring all the elements in my head to life. From his perspective there were too many things technically not working for me in the photographs, but I persisted with what I wanted. The task of printing was left to Michael Schawlger at Impact Digital. Lisa and I were really pleased with the result, as you never really know how your concept will look until the photos are printed. I hope people enjoy the end results because it isn’t easy getting 13 Pacific matriarchs to do a contemporary arts photo-shoot, especially when they are staunchly Christian, and I had asked them to strip, wear no adornment or make-up for the shoot.
I don’t have a favourite material or tool, I often work with what works for my concept to be realized. I also made each woman a comb to honour them. Each comb is named after a month in the ancient Tongan calendar as planting/harvesting of crops is an integral part of Tongan life.
Do other art forms or artists in different disciplines inspire or have influenced you and how?
Yes, many times! Filipe Tohi’s works and Shigeyuki Kihara’s drive in her works always inspire me.
I am currently working on a new concept for an exhibition called Pacific Tapa – The Melbourne Story; a collaborative project where a group of us will be making a contemporary tapa to tell our Pacific migration story from the Islands to Melbourne. I will also collaborate with 10 Pacific Fashion Designers to interpret the place of tapa when worn as clothing in urban Melbourne. The pieces I am making will focus on the relationship between the bark being used to make tapa and the silk worm that lives on the stem. So my new works will focus on Pacific weddings using silk and contemporary tapa motifs. I will use some of Filipe Tohi’s lalava works to bring my new works to life experimenting with the unseen reversed motifs in his works. Shigeyuki Kihara has taught me the power of staying focused. Her drive to deliver art practises that is of quality and pushing yourself to remain professional. One has to push up your artistic game to a level that is more refined.
The Internet has seemingly made the world a more democratic space in which artists, writers and musicians can more easily share their work with the world. How do you think the Internet has created possibilities for Pacific artists?
The Internet has brought the world closer together because you can reach people instantly. It’s there as another tool to bring that concept in your head out. But one has to remember to use it to do great things.
Oceanic Transformations. Melbourne, April 2010. Curated by Loketi Niua Latu for the AAAPS conference. (Image: Withour Fear or Favor | Torika Bolatagici | 2009)
What are you working on at the moment?
I am a juggler.
1. I am pushing our arts group Australian Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust (ACPAT) to formalisation in Melbourne. ACPAT is a collective initiative of Pacific Artists & Curators based in Melbourne, Australia. ACPAT was born out of a meeting of like-minded artists and curators – Shigeyuki Kihara, Maryann Talia Pau, Sana Balai and Loketi Niua Latu – as issues were raised that there is a need for Pacific artists and supporters to come together to nurture the development of Contemporary Pacific Arts in Australia.
2. A new Tonga project.
3. A new exhibition; Pacific Tapa – The Melbourne Story.
4. Attending the Pacific Stories Screening – 25 June 2011, Footscray Community Arts Centre, VIC which will feature Leilani Gibson’s short film about me *so nervous I want to pull out!
5. Developing Fefine Woman Exhibition for national and international tour.
What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?
Having a National Gallery built in Tonga and collaborating with the foremost creative minds of Tongan heritage to bring it to life.
What are you looking forward to?
Learning more! Living a long enough life to enjoy what the future holds for my children and Contemporary Pacific art. Getting a good nights sleep every night!
Malo Loketi! I look forward to your new projects and hopefully I’ll visit the amazing Pacific art community in Melbourne soon.
Interview conducted via email between 2 May – 2 June, 2011. All images courtesy of Loketi Niua Latu.
Loketi Niua Latu Blog : http://loketiniualatu.blogspot.com/
Australian Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust on Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/pages/Australia-Contemporary-Pacific-Arts-Trust/134655636558236
Australian Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust (ACPAT) is a A Not For Profit Organisation based in Melbourne, which helps nurture, foster and develop the Contemporary Pacific Arts movement in Australia. “As a NGO it continues to pursue its goals through promoting and providing profile to Pacific heritage artists and their work. It operates on the understanding that the artists remain independent of ACPAT and come together through the ACPAT connection to participate in art events.”
ACPAT will be be holding its first Inaugural Meeting in Melbourne on 16 of June 2011 at the Wilin Centre For Indigenous Arts, Victorian College of the Arts, Southbank, Melbourne. As well as celebrating their first year anniversary, ACPAT will move a motion to formally incorporate under its new name Arts Oceania: The Australian Contemporary Pacific Arts Network.
Edited 11 July 2011: ACPAT is now called Australia Pacific Arts Network (APAN). The first first inaugural meeting of APAN was held Thursday, 30 June 2011 at the Wilin Centre For Indigenous Arts, Victorian College of the Arts in Southbank. Formerly called Australia Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust. For more information see my post Viti Roundup : APAN, Radio Australia Interview, Pacific Storms and don’t forget… here.