“Kingdom of Lote” from a Samoan perspective

8 06 2011

I stepped off the plane in Auckland, was greeted at the airport by my girl Ema Tavola and promptly told that that night we would be watching a Tongan play called Kingdom of Lote. I was mildly intrigued. Like most Samoans, and having grown up in Hawaii, I can honestly say that I have “lots of Tongan friends” and consider myself quite fluent in the diverse PI world, but a play about Tongans? This was something completely new. I was prepared for the familiar Tongan references: meals featuring some form of domesticated quadruped (usually horse, possibly dog, but not cat), an unnatural obsession with rock wall-ing, infinite kava circles, and more than a few gold teeth. I was not disappointed. Add to that, though, a cast of unforgettable characters, a beautiful score, the most spatially intimate theatrical experience I’ve ever had, and you have Kingdom of Lote – the poignant story of Lote, the head of her small kingdom, which includes her brother Krak and teenage twins, Saia and Sela – a family balancing the demands of Tonga, and Tongan-ness, in current day Aotearoa.

Now, remember, I’m Samoan, so my idea of a great night out has never included taking in a bit of Tongan theater. That said, though, even I could not escape the charm and subtle brilliance that Kingdom of Lote, at its very core, is.

Much of the dialogue is delivered in Tongan, my favorite being the scene where Lote has a conversation with a nosey neighbor—in rapid-fire Tongan and at the top of their lungs. The unapologetic use of the Tongan language, and by extension the inclusion of traditional Tongan songs, works on so many levels: it identifies the primary audience, privileging those lucky enough to understand and speak Tongan. And it places that experience within the context of Pacific life so that someone like me, who may not understand Tongan, can easily identify with it because I’ve had nosey neighbors as well (except mine are mostly Samoan).

Woven amidst the drama of Saia’s burgeoning rugby career, Sela’s unsolicited political pontifications and Krak lamenting on wasted opportunities, is what I thought was the soul of this story: one woman’s drive to keep her family together. Lote represents the Pacific Everywoman, as comfortable in the kitchen as she is on the rugby sideline, as driven as she is humble, as skilled at picking up the pieces as she is at throwing down.

Kingdom of Lote is a testament to the unbreakable spirit of family, shared through the voices, lives and songs of Tongans, but it is also, to its credit, a Pacific tale. For me, Uncle Krak might be Uncle Junior, touchdowns replace tries, and I’ll take turkey tail over horse any day, but when it’s all said and done, these are simply details. The power in this story is that it brings us back to family, whether you call it aiga, famili, or whanau, and that’s something we all identify with.

Dionne Fonoti
May 2011

Dionne Fonoti was they keynote speaker at the Curating Pacific Art Forum, an event in the Pacific Arts Summit delivered in partnership with AUT University on Saturday 21 May. Fonoti is a Samoan academic and film maker based in Apia.


Curating Pacific Art Forum

26 05 2011

The 2nd Curating Pacific Art Forum took place on Saturday 21 May at AUT University’s beautiful new Manukau Campus.

It was great to have Jim Vivieaere, noted Pacific curator in attendance. Concept Leader / Visual Arts Curator at Waikato Museum, Leafa Wilson delivered an inspiring paper entitled, Curating Yourself: The Curator as The Point of Departure and paid homage to Jim’s pioneering practice.

Dagmar Dyke + Christina Jeffery (Tautai Trust)

Lealiifano Albert Refiti (AUT University), Safua Akeli (Te Papa Tongarewa – Museum of New Zealand), Jim Vivieaere + Angela Tiatia

Lealiifano Albert Refiti, Senior Lecturer in Spatial Design in the School of Art and Design, AUT University, delivered the opening address, noting the institution’s commitment to serving the Pacific communities of Manukau.

Bruce E. Phillips, Curator at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts (Pakuranga, Auckland) and independent curator, Luisa Tora discussed international exhibition projects Close Encounters (Hyde Park Art Centre, Chicago, USA) and VASU: Pacific Women of Power (University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji).

Nicole Lim (Fresh Gallery Otara), Margaret Aull (Te Wananga o Aotearoa) + Gareth Dyer (AUT University)

Ema Tavola + Leafa Wilson

The final panel: Ema Tavola (Fresh Gallery Otara), Leafa Wilson (Waikato Museum), Dionne Fonoti (National University of Samoa / Ivilasi Films), Bruce E. Phillips (Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts) and Luisa Tora.

Curator, writer and educator Ian Wedde contributed closing remarks, drawing on the meaning of the word ‘community’, a recurring theme throughout the day.

Sean Mallon (Te Papa Tongarewa – Museum of New Zealand) with Fulimalo Pereira (Auckland Museum) and her daughter.

Leafa Wilson, Luisa Tora + Daniel Satele

Ian Wedde + Bruce E. Phillips

Ema Tavola, Karl Chitham + Leafa Wilson

Our excellent MC, Nigel Borell (Kaiwhakahaere – Maori Arts Advisor, Auckland Council South) with Kolokesa Mahina-Tuai and friend.

Keynote presentation, The Soul, The Image and The Voice by Dionne Fonoti will be posted here soon.

  • We want to know what you’d like to know, hear about, think about, be inspired by for the next Curating Pacific Art Forumemail your thoughts to Ema Tavola
  • A video documenting the event will be posted here soon!

A BIG vinaka vakalevu to AUT University for partnering on a very inspiring day of dialogue!

Curating Pacific Art Forum PROGRAMME

18 05 2011

This is the official programme for the Curating Pacific Art Forum taking place THIS Saturday 21 May at the beautiful new AUT University Manukau Campus. Registrations is free and still open, contact Nicole Lim on 09 271 6019 or Nicole.Lim@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz // Limited spaces!

Curating Pacific Art Forum

9.30am Doors open // Tea + coffee served
10am Welcome + Opening Address
Ema Tavola
Pacific Arts Coordinator, Arts + Culture South, Auckland Council
Albert Refiti
Senior Lecturer in Spatial Design, School of Art and Design
AUT University
10.30am The Soul, The Image and The Voice
Dionne Fonoti

National University of Samoa // Ivilasi Films
Morning Tea
11.50am  Curating Yourself: The Curator as the Point of Departure
Leafa Wilson
Concept Leader / Curator Visual Arts, Waikato Museum – Te Whare Taonga o Waikato
12.35pm Open Forum: Questions for Dionne Fonoti + Leafa Wilson
2pm Close Encounters
Bruce E. Phillips
Curator, Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts
2.35pm VASU: Pacific Women of Power
Luisa Tora

Independent Curator
3pm Open Forum: Questions for Bruce E. Phillips + Luisa Tora
3.20pm Afternoon Tea
Open Forum: Questions + Discussion
4.30pm Closing Remarks
Ian Wedde
Department of Art History, University of Auckland
5 – 7pm Cocktail Reception

Curating Pacific Art Forum programme coming TOMORROW!

17 05 2011

The much anticipated programme for the 2nd Curating Pacific Art Forum will be posted here tomorrow!

The Curating Pacific Art Forum was developed for the 2010 Manukau Pacific Arts Summit and held at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple in Flat Bush, South Auckland. This year’s Forum has been developed in partnership with AUT University, whose newly opened Manukau City campus provides a beautiful and tranquil setting for dialogue and discussion around the curating of Pacific art.

The keynote presentation is programmed to provide an insight into the ways Pacific voices have emerged and become visible across different disciplines. In 2010, Professor Konai Helu Thaman, the Suva-based Tongan poet, educator and Pacific education advocate, discussed the emergence of Pacific voices in literature and the importance of representation.

This year, the keynote presenter, Dionne Fonoti, an Apia-based anthropologist, lecturer and film maker, will discuss racism and representation in Pacific film. Again, raising the importance and politics of representation of / for Pacific people and experience.

The 2010 Forum aimed to paint a picture of the role of curator. Speakers discussed curating within and outside of institutions. Speakers included Pacific Island museum curators, Sean Mallon (Te Papa Tongarewa – Museum of New Zealand) and Fulimalo Pereira (Auckland Museum) and freelance curators, Jim Vivieaere, Faumuina Felolini Maria Tufuna’i and Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai. The Forum inspired some excellent discussion, exposing tensions and challenges for Pacific curators.

This year’s Forum will push the dialogue further investigating the act of curating in relation to communities and audiences. Speakers will discuss curating within museum, university and gallery environments, engaging with specific communities.

There is ample time for questions, discussion and debate; this is a Forum to push the understanding and inspire the growth of the Pacific curatorial sector.

The Curating Pacific Art Forum is absolutely free for registered participants!

What: Curating Pacific Art Forum
Where: AUT University Manukau Campus, 640 Great South Road, Manukau
When: 10am – 5pm + Cocktail Reception 5-7pm, Saturday 21 May
Cost: FREE!!

The Forum programme will be posted here tomorrow!

Dionne Fonoti speaks at the Summit!

1 04 2011

Following on the success of the inaugural Curating Pacific Art Forum in 2010, this year brings a new Forum with a focus on representation, collaboration and interdisciplinary dialogue.

Facilitating dialogue between curators, academics, artists and commentators about Pacific art, the event provides a platform for discussion about curatorial practice, research and community engagement.

Keynote speaker Dionne Fonoti is an anthropologist, film-maker and lecturer at the National University of Samoa. Her paper on racism, representation and indigenous consciousness in Pacific film introduces an interdisciplinary consideration of audience and the crafting of Pacific stories.

The forum is being held at AUT University’s new Manukau campus, which has a strong Pasifika vision. The campus offers courses tailored to meet the needs and interests of local Pacific students and the wider institution offers arts qualifications including undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Art and Design and Arts Management.

When: Saturday 21 May
Time: 10am – 5pm
Where: AUT Manukau Campus, 640 Great South Road, Manukau City

Registration essential! Contact Nicole Lim on 09 271 6019 / Nicole.Lim@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz