D.A.N.C.E. Papakura!

8 06 2011

Papakura Art Gallery manager, Tracey Williams reflects on the D.A.N.C.E. Art Club performance programmed to coincide with Sheyne Tuffery’s solo exhibition, The Ancient Mariners.

Auckland based artists collective D.A.N.C.E. (Distinguished All Night Community Entertainers) presented a one-off performance for the Pacific Arts Summit at Papakura Art Gallery on May 21 in response to Sheyne Tuffery’s show The Ancient Mariners currently on show at the gallery.

Tuffery’s show, also part of the Pacific Arts Summit, is his response to recently becoming a Matai (Samoan chief). The artist said being given the title made him look at Polynesian history afresh, particularly the “incredible seafaring of our Ancestors”.

D.A.N.C.E. picked up on Tuffery’s themes of nautical antiquity when developing their work for the Summit, leading to the building of a symbolic vaka/waka, which they paraded from the water at Prince Edward Park, through the main street of Papakura, then on to the gallery in Averill Street.

Papakura came under the authority of the Auckland Council about six months ago. The area, accessed via the last off ramp on the Southern motorway, is located on the shores of the Pahurehure Inlet, approximately 32 kilometres south of Auckland’s CBD. Many locals resisted the idea of joining the super city, wanting to retain its distinct rural/urban identity. The D.A.N.C.E. event served to symbolically claim this space within the new city structure – as an addition to South Auckland and its dense Pasifika influences.

The action of steering the vaka/waka from the water’s edge through the main street also served as an allegory for the navigation of shared spaces by different cultures – particularly looking to history when Pacifika people first arrived in New Zealand.  Elam postgraduate student Debbie Stenzel who joined in the parade described this in detail:

It seems that whenever I participate in a performance piece, I experience something profound.  Something that cannot come from any other source or be learned any other way – perhaps some type of inner continuum switch that is only activated by the collective sharing of an experience? 

While walking in procession behind the waka and crew, I began to question my own place within today’s multi-cultural society. My thoughts seemed as if they were being echoed by the waka’s journey as it was forced to veer around obstacles, lower itself to avoid collision and to walk confidently when it’s right of way was questioned. 


While observing the waka’s difficulty navigating the modern landscape, I noticed that people were watching us – not just a quick glance or an inquisitive look, they were staring, some with mouths agape in some kind of peculiar reenactment of the colonial gaze. It was at this point I started to feel very self conscious, a touch embarrassed, that through their behaviour we had been relegated to the status of a modern day ethnographic curiosity. Perhaps parallel to the recreation of a Pacific Island peoples past journey, a modern immigrant experience of Aotearoa was inadvertently performed? In that moment I felt that time had changed very little.

When we reached about half way along Great South Road, there was a noticeable shift in energy. I don’t know where it came from or how to describe it other than those feelings of not belonging, or of being observed, dissipated – giving way to a feeling of oneness or acceptance. As we turned into Averill Street, an overwhelming sense of purpose seemed to clear the way forward and the waka led us ashore to the gallery doors where we shared the warmth of music, food and ourselves as we celebrated our journey together on a purposeful autumn morning.

D.A.N.C.E. – consisting of  visual artists Chris Fitzgerald, Ahilapalapa Rands, Linda.T and Maila Urale – facilitates art gatherings whereby boundaries are blurred between creative disciplines and social engagement is the key focus. Events by the collective are art installations that incorporate themed music, food, refreshments and entertainment – with the aim of encouraging audience participation as a way of making art accessible to a wider audience.

Tuffery, based in Petone, is a multi-media visual artist who works primarily in painting, moving image and printmaking. He is perhaps best known for the dynamic style of his prints and woodcuts, describing himself as ‘a paper architect who uses his work to create and represent his own cultural context and sense of belonging’. Tuffery’s prints and paintings often envisage Polynesia as a futuristic urban utopia; with the Samoan fale as the symbolic archetype for skyscrapers, apartment housing and rocket ships (vaka) – reflecting the artist’s research into his Samoan heritage and symbolism.

Vinaka vakalevu Sheyne, D.A.N.C.E. Art Club and Tracey and the team at Papakura Art Gallery!



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