Whitireia Artists-in-Residence showcase work in Porirua ahead of international arts festival

Published on

Three Pacific Artists-in-Residence at Whitireia have been selected to represent Tokelau at The Festival of Pacific Art & Culture in Hawaii in June 2020.

The Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture is the world’s largest celebration of visual and performance art and culture of indigenous Pacific Islanders. It is held every four years in a different Pacific Island nation.

The trio made up of Moses Viliamu, Zac Mateo and Jack Kirifi will be doing a dry run of the visual installation that they will be presenting in Hawaii, at Whitireias Porirua campus at Entry 4 on Wednesday night at 7.30pm and Thursday from 1.30pm until 5pm this week (weather dependant). The public is encouraged to attend.

“We are delighted to support the event which reflects the continuing and strong relationship between Whitireia and Pacific communities in Porirua and the wider Wellington region,” says Chris Gosling, chief executive of Wellington Institute of Technology and Whitireia Community Polytechnic.

Moses, Zac, and Jack have known each other, and Whitireia, for a long time. They were together at high school in Porirua and then studied at Whitireia in the 2000’s. In October 2018, they got an opportunity to work with Whitireia to organise events for Tokelau Language Week. Their participation in that week provided the impetus for the art residency until June 2020, which is when they leave for Hawaii.

Three sails with projection images

The three Tokolau artists have created an installation piece called, “Cry of the Stolen People”, which will tell the story of Tokelau slavery. A story not widely known. It also fits with the Festival’s theme of: “E kū i ka hoe uli” which means ‘take hold of the steering paddle’ or ‘steer your own course’.

The idea was conceived and submission video produced in less than two weeks, after a last-minute decision was made to apply to the Festival.

Artist and graphic designer Moses explained the process: “We brainstormed ideas for about a week before creating our submission. We knew that we wanted to create something that would be visually appealing and would also push our boundaries as artists. ‘Blackbirding’ was something was significant to us all, and was something that we had all researched and used as inspiration for our art individually so it made sense for us to work around that idea.”

“Blackbirding is when people are coerced into working in very poor conditions for little or no pay, and is usually far away from the homeland of the workers. “It a sad part of the history of the Pacific,” says Moses.

Tokelau man taken as slave

“The blackbirding of Tokelauans by the Peruvians in the 1860s is an important part of our history but is not spoken about much,” says artist Zac Mateo. “I think that when you understand the history of your people and where you come from, you understand yourself more, and this is an important part of our history. By creating this installation we are, in a sense, giving back to our Tokelau community.”

“The people of Tokelau are very humble but this means our stories don’t get told as much as other cultures,” said Moses. “It was very important for us to tell this story to our Tokelau community, but also the rest of the Pacific nations.”

The installation will be presented in three stages, over three nights. The first night will show imagery portraying slavery being projected onto three ship sails. The three sails represent the three atolls of Tokelau (Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo), as well as the three artists who created the piece.

On the second night, these masts will be burnt to the ground in a gesture symbolising the taking away of the Tokelau people as slaves by the Peruvian pirates.

Finally, the ashes of the burnt sails will be used to create a mural to reflect the healing and reconciliation of the Tokelau people.

“I really struggled academically when I was at school so finding my community afterwards has been really important for my confidence. This project is about bringing the Tokelau community together. To do something for our people and to inspire them,” says Zac.


 Moses, Zac, and Jack will fly to Hawaii in June 2020 as part of the CreativeNZ team to participate in The Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture (FESTPAC). The festival brings together representatives from 28 Pacific nations to celebrate their dynamic range of arts and culture.