WWJD: Ema Tavola

Ema Tavola’s curatorial practice is the product of the late Jim Vivieaere’s influence. What Would Jim Do (WWJD) is a question Ema asks herself in every show she curates.

Through involvement with an Auckland arts organisation, Tautai Trust, I was afforded the opportunity to assist in the development of an exhibition curated by renowned Cook Islands artist and curator, Jim Vivieaere. That experience gave me my foundation on the ‘how to’ of curating. ~ Ema Tavola

Reflecting on his influence on her own curatorial practice, Ema payed homage to Vivieaere’s efforts in championing the infinite possibilities of Contemporary Pacific Art in her last curational show at Fresh Gallery Otara, which she rightly named WWJD.

WWJD standing for ‘What Would Jim Do’, is a play on the popular 1990s phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do’ and honours the work of Jim Vivieaere, who passed away in 2011.

Featuring Renee Bevan, Nigel Borell, Rebecca Ann Hobbs, Vinesh Kumaran, Sangeeta Singh, Coco Solid, Gary Silipa,  Benjamin Work and New Flava Barbers, WWJD represents Fresh Gallery Otara’s role in showcasing new Pacific art that challenges, engages and reflects the unique socio-political context of Otara, South Auckland and Oceania.

For years Ema has said, ‘there ain’t no opening like a Fresh Gallery Otara opening’…so of cause I had to hop on a plane from Brisbane and fly to Auckland to experience Ema’s last exhibition as the Curator and Auckland Council Pacific Arts Co-ordinator at Fresh Gallery Otara.

The opening (May 10) was a night of celebrations: Fresh’s 6th Anniversary, its 66th Show and Ema’s last exhibition at Fresh, which turned out to be an emotional one for Ema with several colleagues and friends speaking about her fearless and passionate advocacy for the arts in and of South Auckland.

Asked by ArtAsia Pacific what she hoped her own legacy will be, Ema responded:

“I hope that engaging Pacific people to think and respond to Pacific art will move the sector forward in new ways and challenge the ‘art world’ hierarchy . . . I will always strive to present Pacific art in ways that compliment the ‘Pacific way.”

The opening was like artist s̶t̶a̶l̶k̶e̶r̶ ̶-researcher heaven for me as Pinky (aka Luisa Tora) pointed out various Pacific artists, play writes, academics and curators to me. Although she did fail when it came to introducing me to Cerisse Palalagi! I saw Cee a couple of times that night but thought she was her sister. Next time Cee!

He kokonga whare e kitea, he kokonga ngakau e kore e kitea – The corners of the house are visible, the corners of the heart are invisible (2012) are digital prints by Nigel Borell that were made using an iPhone app. The technology of  iPhones and similar devices combined with various software applications allows Pacific artists like Borrell to interpret and embellish Maori and Pacific motifs to create exceptional new works of art.

He kokonga whare e kitea, he kokonga ngakau e kore e kitea. When I first read the title, my heart skipped a beat. Things are not always as they seem at first glance because much like the heart, at times they were invisible.

Borell’s works were placed in three different corners of the gallery and at first you might miss the prints at the entrance of the gallery and only see the prints (above image) placed in the main exhibition space. And you’ll be forgiven for not noticing the prints placed in the lower corner of the opposite wall, overpowered by the The Polyfest Hair Project photographs and Gary Silipa’s Born Again painting.

The placement of the individual prints makes you stop and look at them from different angles and occasionally Maori and Pacific motifs – ferns, woven mats etc. become recognisable.

A figure gives birth to a dark figure the same size as its self.  Another regurgitates upside down other smaller figures.

Sangeeta Singh’s art is confronting. She paints her reality as she feels it.

Her work usually has images of faceless, naked unrecognisable female bodies and of umbilical cords that bind the figures but yet at the same time suffocates them. Tortured souls.

I have fish eyes, shark teeth and I chase dream tails is no different.  It tells a story. A story of chasing dream tails.

I’ve known Sangeeta since our Red Wave Collection days at the Oceania Centre, she’s family. So it’s hard not to view her work (let alone write about it) and feel her pain. As her friend I know the place where she paints from, I know her reality.

Love you Sanqi, keep chasing those dream tails xxx.

More photos on Urban Viti’s Facebook Page here

Colour Me Fiji meets Urban Viti! #TeamFiji bloggers unite!


Featuring Renee Bevan, Nigel Borell, Rebecca Ann Hobbs, Vinesh Kumaran, Sangeeta Singh, Coco Solid, Gary Silipa,  Benjamin Work and New Flava Barbers

Curated by Ema Tavola

Fresh Gallery Otara
Shop 5, 46 Fairmall , Otara Town Centre, South Auckland, New Zealand
11 May – 23 June 2012

WWJD is part of the 2012 Pacific Arts Summit.

The 2012 PACIFIC ARTS SUMMIT is a customised programme of events built around the anniversary of Fresh Gallery Otaraand designed to celebrate a broad spectrum of Pacific arts practice at home in South Auckland.

This years Summit programme was full of Pacific artists with strong emotional, cultural and historical connections to South Auckland. The 2012 programme featured new and bold events, diverse disciplines and challenging ideas.

Visual arts exhibitions and projects showcaseing local artists and themes, community-generated ideas and participation.


2012 Pacific Arts Summit

2012 Pacific Arts Summit on Facebook

Fresh Gallery Otara Marks Six Years // Spasifikmag by Jared Mackley-Crump

WWJD at the Pacific Arts Summit // ArtAsia Pacific by Hiliary Luong

Photos from the opening of WWJD on #2012PAS Facebook Page

Photos from the opening of WWJD by Ema Tavola

Photos from opening of WWJD on Urban Viti’s Facebook Page

What Would Jim Do? // Ema Tavola’s tribute to Jim Vivieaere

Colour Me Fiji – Ema Tavola’s Blog

Talanoa with Ema Tavola // Urban Viti’s interview with Ema Tavola

Images: Photographs by Dulcie Stewart of Urban Viti except for the photograph of Ema Tavola and Dulcie Stewart by Nigel Borell and the Pacific Arts Summit poster via the Pacific Arts Summit blog.


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