a photography exhibition by Evotia Tamua
at the Arch Hill Gallery, Auckland, Aotearoa
A Creative New Zealand sponsored conference for New Zealand-based Pacific
Islands artist was held in Auckland in the last week of November 1996. The
evening before the conference began, Auckland-based Samoan photographer
Evotia Tamua opened her exhibition "Islanders" at the new Arch
Hill Gallery in Grey Lynn.
Tamua spent much of the last two years photographing the people of the Pacific, either on her home turf - the world's largest Pacific Islands community - or on assignment in the Pacific. Although it is a small exhibition, "Islanders" has some fine images from Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tonga and, of course, Samoa.
One domestic scene, bathed in luxurious red light, has a middle-aged man gazing into space while a woman, also seated, stares directly at the camera - a common device, but also one which aptly portrays the two classic outside views of the Pacific: the passive paradise under western eyes and the many assertive and friable cultures which stare back at the west. This image also has foil-wrapped food posited in the centre foreground and out of focus, acknowledging the omnipresence of food in matters Pacific. It is a fine work and to my mind the best in the show.
Some of Tamua's subjects are relatives, well known by her and relaxed in their approach to the camera. A photograph of Tamua's mother after a day gardening shows her scowling in her gumboots and rubber gloves.
Another simple photograph, one of a child in a plastic toy car at a Nuku'alofa market, builds on the contrasts between the Western and the new-traditions of the Pacific. That is, perhaps, the most obvious advantage of Tamua's Auckland up-bringing: having her feet firmly planted in two worlds.
For New Zealanders the show's title, islanders, reflects a negative image of the people of the Pacific. It is associated with the employment shortages of the 1970s and the 'overstaying' phenomenon. Here, though, Tamua shows that the word can mean what Pacific Islanders want it to mean: they live their lives on their own terms, and can speak freely and openly to the world about who they are.
The exhibition is brief, finishing in early December 1996, but it is a worthy glimpse of a new photographer, one who has come from commercial beginnings back into the world of art where she is best able to support and express her feelings for the Pacific and its communities.