Postcards from Papatoetoe: A Pop-up & Pocket Exhibition from the Pantograph Punch

For the past few months, a number of shops in the Old Papatoetoe mall have sat empty, anticipating the site’s redevelopment. Demolition is due to commence in August, although there’s no date yet confirmed. There’ll be a new plaza space, more cafés, and an upgraded parking lot, but for now it exists as an in-between space – no longer the mall, not yet something else.

As part of a wider series of pop-up projects we’re doing this year, we invited eight artists to occupy some of the empty store fronts with a series of poster-based works that salute, celebrate, and respond to the area. Among them are Vinesh Kumaran, whose portraits will make your heart sing; Pooja Subramanian and Quishile Charan, whose works explore Indian and Indo-Fijian life with alternating warmth and cheekiness; and Kerry Ann Lee, whose posters create a sense of unexpected longing and nostalgia for places we may never see. Those visiting the mall can take away momentos of the exhibition: postcards to keep and share and use.

Thanks to all the amazing artists who’ve taken part, and to our visual arts editor, Francis McWhannell, for holding it all together. Here’s a glimpse of what’s on show.

I le amataga (In the beginning)

Elisabeth Alani’s posters celebrate a personal connection to Old Papatoetoe, while acknowledging the importance of faith in the lives of many residents. The artist writes, “I grew up in Papatoetoe. My family church is on Birdwood Avenue, not far from the mall. There, I would listen to Bible stories. One of my favourites is the Creation, the narrative of God creating the world.”

The works represent the seven days of Creation, from O le uluai aso (The first day) to Aso fitu (Day seven). They show: the dividing of the light and darkness; the dividing of the waters; the creation of the land and plants; the creation of the celestial lights; the creation of the birds and sea creatures; the creation of the land animals and humankind; and God’s day of rest.

Ghar and Dharti (Home and Earth)

Quishile Charan and Pooja Subramanian’s work grows out of their shared identity as people of Indian descent who have moved between multiple lands and cultures. Each artist has made five posters, not exactly collaborating, but instead working in sympathy with one another. Each has produced a pair of texts expressing personal experiences. The words appear on top of images of sari and lungi owned by members of the artists’ families.

Subramanian, who was born in Indian but grew up in the Middle East and Aotearoa, has also produced two posters that refer to a mural near the Old Papatoetoe mall. One closely mirrors the painting, depicting a Pākehā family having a picnic in the Papatoetoe of the past. The other shows a similar scene, but the family has changed into an Indian family more relevant to the Papatoetoe of the present.

Charan, who is Indo-Fijian, has created three further posters that draw on her current interest in traditional fabrics, including masi (Fijian tapa) and sari. The artist writes, “My work looks at how one holds onto home despite displacement brought on by migration or environmental changes. The textiles are made as a way to hold onto memories, to honour my ancestors, and to cherish Viti (Fiji).”


Ema Tavola’s works discuss issues of identity and gentrification. The artist notes, “They play on the history of posters as a protest medium – a means to voice experiences, attitudes, and truths that have not been heard, or have been disregarded in the roll-out of social, economic, and political change.”


Usually based in Wellington, Kerry Ann Lee is currently in Mexico City. For Postcards from Papatoetoe, she has sent postcards to Papatoetoe – vintage postcards from resort and sightseeing locations in Mexico. To these, she has added lyrics from songs by bands like the Pixies and Blondie, creating a sort of visual eight-track mixtape. While most of the texts seem to relate to the images they sit on, some also feel like generic sayings or affirmations.

The title Placeholders relates to the temporary nature of this exhibition, while also alluding to the function of postcards as artefacts of locations. The works evoke the romance of exotic holidays and the nostalgia of old photographs, inviting us to reflect on the times and places we know, have known, and can never know. They also call to mind the funny, silly, or profound things that we scribble on postcards, before dispatching them overseas and into the future.

Not doing anything

Liyen Chong is currently based in Houston, Texas; her work has been sent here from overseas. The posters reveal Chong’s training in graphic design as well as in art. She plays with a hexagonal visual device associated with Panuku, the Auckland Council organisation managing the redevelopment of the Old Papatoetoe mall. Chong’s works relate to what is going on in the mall area, but they are deliberately mysterious. While there is a definite whimsicality to them, they are also tinged with sadness, and even foreboding.

C Commerce

Lana Lopesi’s works explore Old Papatoetoe’s function as a cultural and commercial hub for Pacific and Indian communities. They highlight goods and services relating to these communities that could be found in the mall until recently and can be found nearby today. Lopesi’s posters primarily seem celebratory, acknowledging and celebrating Papatoetoe as it is. At the same time, they question the gentrification processes taking place in South Auckland. Will the identity of Papatoetoe endure, even be reinforced, or will these posters ultimately serve as documents of loss?

Portraits in Papatoetoe

In 2014, photographer Vinesh Kumaran set himself the challenge of making a portrait a day of a stranger. Part of the challenge was to use an iPhone instead of his usual cameras and to post the images on Instagram. For this project, Kumaran has selected photographs taken in and around the Papatoetoe area, tiling the portraits in a way that evokes their original format.

The artist notes, “In our local communities, we frequently see the same people and yet we seldom make the effort to start conversations. The purpose of this project was to create dialogue between myself, as the photographer, and the person being photographed. I was intrigued by the people I met, their histories, and their perspectives on life.”

More portraits – and the stories behind each – can be found on Kumaran’s Instagram page, @vkumaran.

Postcards from Papatoetoe
A pop-up & pocket exhibition
Old Papatoetoe mall
21 July to when the shops go down

Organised by Francis McWhannell with assistance from Ema Tavola.
With work by Elisabeth Alani, Quishile Charan, Liyen Chong, Vinesh Kumaran, Kerry Ann Lee, Lana Lopesi, Pooja Subramanian, and Ema Tavola.

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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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