The exhibition Raroboys and Friends celebrates the agency of youth at South Auckland’s Māngere Arts Centre.
Walking into exhibitions, I often feel excluded. There is a sense that the space is high-class access only. This is the experience of many who do not frequent these places, those who find art galleries and exhibitions not only polarising but strange – like a quiet library without the warm carpet and free internet. Openings can be just as polarising; somehow, when the space is filled with people who don’t look like you, it changes the way you interact with the work.
Māngere Arts Centre is different.
In Māngere, where you are more likely to catch the sounds of siren music than traffic, central to the art and the artists featured, where it’s familiar and close and safe – you are welcomed. If it’s not the Cook Island mamas having a meeting in the foyer, adorned in striking muumuu that does it, it will be the work in the gallery itself. This chosen location for the Raroboys and Friends exhibition reflects the kaupapa of Raroboys, returning home to South Auckland after testing central-city venues for prior events.
The arts collective Raroboys was formed in 2018, the idea sparked by talented multidisciplinary designer Naik2g (Bryson Naik) and artist DeadNakedParty or DNP (Lolani Dalosa). Photographer and graphic designer Geoffery Matautia, familiar to audiences through his creator alias Southsides, joined soon after and became the group's main organiser, helping to recruit four more members.
The collective has held two one-night events to celebrate the launch of Raroboys Vol. 1 and Raroboys Vol. 2 zines, all self-funded and supported by a community of more than 200 at their openings. This gives us plenty of reasons to take note: the group is resourceful and redefines collectivity. It’s since increased its total membership to 10 independent artists who create in a range of mediums.
Raroboys and Friends is the collective’s first art exhibition
Raroboys and Friends is the collective’s first art exhibition. I am excited to be seeing their work up close. Their previous events were very different; an in-house store saw their zines, merch and prints quickly snapped up and musical appearances from Raroboys’ friends included Church & AP, and SWIDT. The collective has brought the same exhilarating energy to Raroboys and Friends, minus the drinks and live music. Joined by other collectives (hence the ‘and Friends’): Comboys, Bodied and Period7, – a group of young artists working on a platform set up by Raroboys – the room is awash with talent. From playful photographs by Christian Turner @afakas1 to the exquisite paint detail of Period7 artist Nita @y4k1o, everything nods to South Auckland agency and choices of expression. Each piece of work in Raroboys and Friends offers insight into a unique Pacific/youth/SA experience, as opposed to the stereotypes often forced on the region and its people.
Lovingly described by Raroboy peers and fans as ‘Matua’, both Southsides and Naik2g lead the way with their streaks of innovation and Polynesian comfort. Southsides has gained media traction and immense support since sharing images of his friends in their front yards during lockdown last year, some of which are featured in the exhibition. Matautia is respected by many, and is the orchestrator, mover and connector behind the collective’s show this year. Naik2g’s garage paradise piece renders the lush and luxurious escape of the islands perfectly, a view often reached at certain levels of intoxication at the garage drink-ups the image hints at. SouthAucklandTrash uses the concept of photobashing and design to capture sacred moments in an almost otherworldly depiction of Sāmoa. The two pieces are spiritual, and surprisingly calming despite the ghostlike figures alone in the early hours.
Aasha-Samara Nimo, or @glittergirlclub, is a Māngere Arts Centre favourite, having had her solo exhibition The Sisterhood Affair featured at the gallery in 2020. Aasha’s signature design and collage style gives us some nostalgic old-tech energy with GGP Homepage and Manufactured by grievances. Who born after the millenium remembers curly cords attached to home phones? Aasha-Samara invites viewers to press play and see where the Glitter Girl Club Homepage leads, (her collage suggests super-cute fairies living next to a lilypond).
Raroboy veteran DNP never settles or fails to impress. Merging photography and printmaking, his works are immediately identifiable by his iconic mixed-media methods. When they see his religious fan-art, an enhanced modern take with heavy Catholic themes, those who know, know. This time one of his featured works, Pretty thing, is a sparkling ode to Mother Mary.
The Raroboys have chosen a strong support system for this show by including Comboys, three Polynesian multidisciplinary artists who founded their collective at university. Successful in last year’s Boosted x Moana Fundraiser, Comboys raised $6,000 towards the release of their next collection. Viewers of the Raroboys exhibition are lucky to get a sneak peek at the boys’ work, which weaves themes of Polynesian diaspora experiences into a stunning picture, inspired by apotheosis art often found on the ceilings of churches. The design the group has chosen to showcase is a Polynesian Warriors league player being raised to divine status, along with Mother Mary and Jesus himself. Framed by an intricate green circuit board, a component essential to electronic devices, the picture highlights how religion and sport overlap within most Polynesian households and are, maybe, key to a functioning home.
I’d like to see the artists challenge themselves by combining their skills and mediums
It’s a privilege to see what the young artists behind the collectives Period7 and Bodied see and what they willingly share. Designer Dallas of @bodiedgrp reimagines the momentous moon landing with a planted Sāmoan flag and an astronaut sporting a lavalava. One of my highlights, Blue Angel, is a stunning drawing by artist Lauryn. Her articulate shading skills capture the daydreaming of a curly-haired angel, eyes closed and looking downward. It's obvious that the future of the South Auckland art scene is in good hands, thanks to the nourishment of mentors like Raroboys. But it’s up to others to continue to support and fund young artists and collectives like Raroboys, for us to keep seeing what they have to share.
For their next exhibition, I’d be interested to see more collaborative work between the Raroboys, who have created their works individually for this one. I’d like to see the artists challenge themselves by combining their skills and mediums, although hopefully Covid restrictions don’t impinge too much on any future outcomes. Some of the artists’ works in the exhibition have been shown previously on other platforms, such as Instagram. I’m looking forward to when the collective surprises their community with more pieces we haven’t seen before.
Raroboys do not need to be taught how to build community.
Raroboys do not need to be taught how to build community. They have been generous, setting up the Discord platform to communicate with Period7, to redistribute valuable artistic skills and knowledge with up-and-coming creatives. Seeking no economic gain from Period7, the Raroboys have used what they have in the best way, teaching and chatting in online workshops and ultimately doing needed work: investing in their community. The learning space is open and reciprocal, mirroring the easy-going atmosphere of an after-school club. Period7 is evidence of what empowerment and trust can do to give young people the right tools to express, learn and be a part of a community.
To see the fruits of this incredible mahi, you have to see the Raroboys and Friends exhibition before it closes on 26 March.
Māngere Arts Centre
4 February – 26 March
Taualofa Totua is a cadet in the Next Page cadetship programme, public interest journalism funded through NZ On Air.
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