The Pantograph Picks: Urbanesia

Our picks from Auckland’s Pan-Pacific Grand Prix

I sit in a weatherboard city
a basilica of wondrous beauty

- Courtney Sina Meredith, ‘Basilica’, Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick

It’s a good sign when a festival chooses its name from the writings of a poet. Poly-talented Courtney Sina Meredith – poet, playwright, prose writer – is credited with coining ‘Urbanesia’, joining together Latin and Greek roots to create ‘City Islands’. Pedantic etymologists be damned; this is poetry!

The word ‘Urbanesia’, says the Festival’s website, is “a way to represent new Polynesian communities in urban areas”. When the large Pacific migrations to Aotearoa were over 50 years ago, the dawn raids 40 years ago and even Dawn Raid Entertainment started last millennium, we think maybe the “new” can be dropped. The established artists in this line-up are certainly not arriviste.

Over three weekends from this coming weekend, the second annual Urbanesia Festival will take place across nine venues, from Henderson in the west to Glen Innes in the east, Northcote in the north to Pukekohe (rather “new” Auckland) in the deep south. All events – fantastically – are free. We approve; meitaki ma'ata, malo and fa’afetai lava, Auckland Council.

We’re looking forward to spending time reflecting on Hikule'o: Hue and Residue at Nathan Homestead, and checking out Altered Egos, the animation and illustration show at Ngā Tohu O Uenuku in Mangere. But while you can always go and look at art whenever, here are a few events to catch if you prefer art sampling as a social activity:

Train ride with Edith and the Youth

Trains and art – what’s not to love? Use your Hop card to catch the 6pm train from Henderson to Avondale this Friday (11 November) and you'll see not only Edith Amituanai’s documentary images on billboards and adshels out the window, but the acclaimed photographer herself inside the train. She'll be travelling with a posse of “travelling youth” who “come from around the local Henderson and Ranui area where Edith lives and actively engages as a community mentor, friend and artist.”

The journey promises pop-up performances, art and music, and at the end, “the adventure continues at Avondale’s All Goods Gallery, where there will be…”

A free poster exhibition

Whau the People has to be one of the most community-minded art collectives ever. A Whau river mangrove-roots group committed to their west-isthumus hood, they create art events by the people for the people, as well as the most “whau king awesome” art t-shirts north of Siliga Setoga’s Ōtara POPO hardwear.

For Urbanesia, Janet Lilo and Whau the People present the Amituanai happenings and two exhibitions in their “aspirationally permanent” art space All Goods (which is 9 months old and counting!). The first exhibition, Open Brief curated by Ioana Gordon-Smith, includes posters by a number of artists including Maila Urale, Siliga Setoga himself, the hard-working Johnson Witehera – just off the back of a high-maintenance, provocative solo exhibition at Objectspace, and also appearing in Urbanesia’s Dreamscape in Pukekohe – and the Pantograph Punch’s very own visual arts co-editor Lana Lopesi. The second is a solo exhibition by Salome Tanuvasa. Exhibitions open Friday evening 11 November, and close Wednesday 30 November.

Saturday morning at Ōtara with people with great names

With Fresh Gallery Ōtara, the Music Arts Centre, the markets and MIT next door, Ōtara is a significant arts hub, particularly on Saturday mornings. This Saturday (12 November) there’s even more than usual going on. King Kapisi is on the stage with The Saturday Morning Hip Hop Show from 9am: “have a go at spitting rhymes off the top of your head as part of the regional heat of the Freestyle Rap Battle Olympics, Auckland’s first-ever family-friendly freestyle rap battle.” Go on, have a go.

And there’s a live performance by Exit Four44 dance crew to open local filmmaker Samson Rambo’s week-long Otara Cube installation ‘Old School is Alive in Otara’, sometime around 10am-midday.

While you’re there, check out the Fresh photography show putting the work of veteran graffiti crew TMD In the Frame. TMD have been a collective now for 20 years, which makes (some of) us feel old here at Pantograph, and is evidence that the artists were right about being The Most Dedicated. At various times TMD has included such stars as Askew One, Misery, Lady Diva, Elliot Francis Stewart and Phat1 – some of whom are not Otara locals, it must be said. Exhibition until Saturday 26 November.

All-male VPMA all-stars

You know, it sucks that there are no women artists staring in this free Vodafone Pacific Music Award winners showcase on Friday 18 November at Papakura’s Hawkins Theatre – particularly as it points to a gender-skewed VPMA winners’ (and finalists’) podium in the first place.

But there’s still lots to enjoy here: the challenge in front of Vince Harder (how will his live show capture the award-winning tight, pick’n-mix production of his catchy, upbeat EP Rare Vision?), the Frank Ocean soundalike vocals of Mikey Mayz, the musicianship of gospel singer TJ Taotua and, best of all, the irrepressible hip hop of Team Dynamite, who impressively match rap and sampled riffs to sound both relaxed and lively at the same time.

Team Dynamite won NZ on Air Best Pacific Music Video with Cosmos Re-Up (directed by Eddy Fifield, watch it above) which shows the crew driving around Russell, of all places, on a trailer with a smoking steampunk UFO prop. Aliens in Kororareka? We can only echo YouTube commenter Lord Neptune who wrote under the (also excellent) video for Shepherd’s Delight: ‘fuck yeah Team Dynamite!’

Tautai Weekend Central

Important art supporter Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust celebrates its 30 year anniversary this year, and is serving up some tasty treats:

  • A Fiafia Night at Galatos on Friday 18 November from 6pm featuring “Karanga Ink, FAFSWAG, Pacific Dance New Zealand and local DJ Tito from Rebel Soul”.
  • An Art Emporium on Saturday 20 November 10am- 4pm which cannily takes contemporary Pacific art and crafts to a congregation of likely buyers – ie, Ponsonby Central.
  • A SaVAge K’lub CraftyNOON Tea on Sunday 21 November 1pm-3pm at the Ponsonby Community Centre, “an opportunity to share techniques, learn new skills and create and make your own regalia…. Make a star to contribute to Maryann Pau Talia’s One Million Stars Against Violence project, which will be installed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.”

All of the above feature something called the “Tautai Banana Booth” which is described as “Janet Lilo’s iconic artwork” with which you can be photographed. As yet, Google images knows it not.

PolyCultural Storm at Te Oro

What first caught our eye in this Saturday afternoon event at Glen Innes’ new arts centre on 26 November was a presentation by Wellingtonian Nina Nawalowalo, “the first ever female Melanesian theatre director globally” and co-founder of The Conch theatre company. Nawalowalo is to “share” works including The White Guitar, a hard-hitting, popular work starring Scribe and his family.

But the theme of the whole afternoon – which includes a lot of film works – is something closer to the heart of another recent Conch work, Marama: environmental threats to the Pacific. While it’s easy to view art with an overt environmental message as boring and worthy (if important) propaganda, the quote used to publicise this Storm event connects cause-and-effect with impressive immediacy and intimacy: “With the growing threat of rising sea levels, it’s time to assess the influence our lives in Aotearoa are having on the Pacific homelands.”

Kids in town don’t bleed
thrusting plastic proverbs
commercial love dance
state truth scout’s honour.
The Sky Tower changes colour.

- Courtney Sina Meredith, ‘Free hand love chat’

11-26 November
See the rest of the programme here

Cover photo:
Edith Amituanai

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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