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Mapping the trajectory of feminism through contemporary Pacific art

Marti Friedlander, United Women’s Convention, Hamilton 1979. E H McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, on loan from the Gerrard and Marti Friedlander Charitable Trust, 2002.

Before the term ‘intersectionality’ became part of contemporary feminist vocabulary, it was paralleled in Indigenous knowledge - where interconnectedness, or kotahitanga, are not new, and often rooted in collective experiences of struggles for sovereignty.

Marti Friedlander’s iconic photograph captures the historical moment when Māori and Pacific women, led by Donna Awatere and Ramona Papali’i, issued a challenge to the organisers of the United Women’s Convention in 1979. Accusing the movement of racism and active exclusion from equal participation in the conference and more widely in society, these women demanded inclusion and are but prime examples of ‘intersectionality.’ 

The term was ‘officially’ coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights activist and law academic, finally giving language to an inherent value held by many indigenous people. Ane Tonga, the first Pacific art curator at Auckland Art Gallery Toi ō Tāmaki, used that photo to affirm that “feminism has always looked different for us”.

That approach informed Tonga when curating the gallery’s new exhibition Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda, set to open on Saturday March 26.

The exhibition looks at feminism through a Pacific lens, using the power of matrilineal knowledge and bringing to the fore the most pressing issues of our times: climate change, resilience, tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), activism and social justice. It confirms that a new Pacific feminist agenda has been appointed.

Jessicoco Hansell, Aunti FM: To be of Secret Service (Psychic Frequency Unknown). Installation. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2022.

A mirror is set to shine back on society through the help of 12 prominent Pacific artists: Jasmine Togo-Brisby, Marti Friedlander, Jessicoco Hansell, Taloi Havini, Lonnie Hutchinson, Ioane Ioane, Sione Monū, Suzanne Tamaki, Latai Taumoepeau, Molly Rangiwai-McHale, Luisa Tora and Kalisolaite ’Uhila.

Presenting major commissioned projects, rarely seen artworks and ephemera from institutional and private collections, Declaration builds a Pacific feminist trajectory with an approach that empowers the agency of all genders. Curator Tonga asserts that the exhibition is for everyone and says that feminism looks like “collective action”.

Many artists are in agreement that feminism looks different to everyone. This is especially the case for poet and artist Manu Vaeatangitau, who has seen traditionally western archetypes of gender as a “play of dominance”.’

“In reading missionary journals it was obvious that our roles were interchangeable and gender was always complimentary, even if they didn’t mean to say that. To me feminism is watching my aunties and cousins staying up late in the kitchen to ensure everyone has a good feast the next day. It looks like sacrifice.”

In a bid to challenge ignorance and uplift marginalised voices, Vaeatangitau and fellow artist Sione Monū have taken up the entire back window of the gallery with the work titled 'Kindred: A Leitī Chronicle.’ To be Leitī means to be ‘like a lady’ in Tongan.

Monū says they never saw themselves in the media growing up and wanted to create something that brings every Leitī on a journey of representation.

Five women are presented in a large portrait mural and have each been dressed in a range of garments. The women are partitioned off into colourful sections, almost emulating the stained-glass windows found in churches, with a pick of five mother Mary's for us to choose from. 

Sione Monū, Leitī from the Kafu Couture series.

Each of the women depicted have a significant place in the artists’ lives and have been adorned in beaded headdresses, giving each an aura of regality. It also reflects Monū’s belief that feminism looks like sisterhood.

“If it’s not in your face there is a chance you can miss it. We’re making this statement so Leitī can see themselves in the sisterhood.”

Jasmine Togo-Brisby is a Pacific artist who grew up in Australia, and whose work also features in the exhibition. Her whānau have roots in Vanuatu and were bought over by means of ‘blackbirding,’ which saw many Pacific Islanders poached from their homes and forced to labour on plantations in Australia. 

Togo-Brisby is on a mission to bring the story of not only her Granny but the stories of so many others to Declaration. Through the use of a ceiling installation she aims to physically challenge museum goers by literally forcing them to “change their perspective”. Using a ceiling centre with carvings of her matrilineal line plastered above, viewers are encouraged to “stare back” at those most affected by colonisation.

While in pursuit of her mission, Togo-Brisby believes it imperative to talk about all aspects of our history – the “good, bad and the ugly”.

“It’s important we have open, frank discussion about all of it, if we want to do something about our future. I see this exhibition as a chance to talk about the big things in a safe space.”

Curator Tonga says she has always aspired for such an exhibition and had great support from not only Toi ō Tāmaki but her communities too. The earnest support confirmed to Tonga that now is the right time for such a project.

“You can’t unlearn everything you see here, but I hope that those who come to the exhibition leave with a more enriched world view.”

As for her own Pacific feminist agenda, Tonga says, “I hope people find hope, joy and empowerment from our declaration, and use it to form their own.”

• Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda is on show at the Auckland Art Gallery, from March 26 – July 31, 2022. Entry is free. For more details, click here.

This is a Public Interest Journalism funded role through NZ On Air

Public Interest Journalism logo

No items found.
Marti Friedlander, United Women’s Convention, Hamilton 1979. E H McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, on loan from the Gerrard and Marti Friedlander Charitable Trust, 2002.

Before the term ‘intersectionality’ became part of contemporary feminist vocabulary, it was paralleled in Indigenous knowledge - where interconnectedness, or kotahitanga, are not new, and often rooted in collective experiences of struggles for sovereignty.

Marti Friedlander’s iconic photograph captures the historical moment when Māori and Pacific women, led by Donna Awatere and Ramona Papali’i, issued a challenge to the organisers of the United Women’s Convention in 1979. Accusing the movement of racism and active exclusion from equal participation in the conference and more widely in society, these women demanded inclusion and are but prime examples of ‘intersectionality.’ 

The term was ‘officially’ coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights activist and law academic, finally giving language to an inherent value held by many indigenous people. Ane Tonga, the first Pacific art curator at Auckland Art Gallery Toi ō Tāmaki, used that photo to affirm that “feminism has always looked different for us”.

That approach informed Tonga when curating the gallery’s new exhibition Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda, set to open on Saturday March 26.

The exhibition looks at feminism through a Pacific lens, using the power of matrilineal knowledge and bringing to the fore the most pressing issues of our times: climate change, resilience, tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), activism and social justice. It confirms that a new Pacific feminist agenda has been appointed.

Jessicoco Hansell, Aunti FM: To be of Secret Service (Psychic Frequency Unknown). Installation. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2022.

A mirror is set to shine back on society through the help of 12 prominent Pacific artists: Jasmine Togo-Brisby, Marti Friedlander, Jessicoco Hansell, Taloi Havini, Lonnie Hutchinson, Ioane Ioane, Sione Monū, Suzanne Tamaki, Latai Taumoepeau, Molly Rangiwai-McHale, Luisa Tora and Kalisolaite ’Uhila.

Presenting major commissioned projects, rarely seen artworks and ephemera from institutional and private collections, Declaration builds a Pacific feminist trajectory with an approach that empowers the agency of all genders. Curator Tonga asserts that the exhibition is for everyone and says that feminism looks like “collective action”.

Many artists are in agreement that feminism looks different to everyone. This is especially the case for poet and artist Manu Vaeatangitau, who has seen traditionally western archetypes of gender as a “play of dominance”.’

“In reading missionary journals it was obvious that our roles were interchangeable and gender was always complimentary, even if they didn’t mean to say that. To me feminism is watching my aunties and cousins staying up late in the kitchen to ensure everyone has a good feast the next day. It looks like sacrifice.”

In a bid to challenge ignorance and uplift marginalised voices, Vaeatangitau and fellow artist Sione Monū have taken up the entire back window of the gallery with the work titled 'Kindred: A Leitī Chronicle.’ To be Leitī means to be ‘like a lady’ in Tongan.

Monū says they never saw themselves in the media growing up and wanted to create something that brings every Leitī on a journey of representation.

Five women are presented in a large portrait mural and have each been dressed in a range of garments. The women are partitioned off into colourful sections, almost emulating the stained-glass windows found in churches, with a pick of five mother Mary's for us to choose from. 

Sione Monū, Leitī from the Kafu Couture series.

Each of the women depicted have a significant place in the artists’ lives and have been adorned in beaded headdresses, giving each an aura of regality. It also reflects Monū’s belief that feminism looks like sisterhood.

“If it’s not in your face there is a chance you can miss it. We’re making this statement so Leitī can see themselves in the sisterhood.”

Jasmine Togo-Brisby is a Pacific artist who grew up in Australia, and whose work also features in the exhibition. Her whānau have roots in Vanuatu and were bought over by means of ‘blackbirding,’ which saw many Pacific Islanders poached from their homes and forced to labour on plantations in Australia. 

Togo-Brisby is on a mission to bring the story of not only her Granny but the stories of so many others to Declaration. Through the use of a ceiling installation she aims to physically challenge museum goers by literally forcing them to “change their perspective”. Using a ceiling centre with carvings of her matrilineal line plastered above, viewers are encouraged to “stare back” at those most affected by colonisation.

While in pursuit of her mission, Togo-Brisby believes it imperative to talk about all aspects of our history – the “good, bad and the ugly”.

“It’s important we have open, frank discussion about all of it, if we want to do something about our future. I see this exhibition as a chance to talk about the big things in a safe space.”

Curator Tonga says she has always aspired for such an exhibition and had great support from not only Toi ō Tāmaki but her communities too. The earnest support confirmed to Tonga that now is the right time for such a project.

“You can’t unlearn everything you see here, but I hope that those who come to the exhibition leave with a more enriched world view.”

As for her own Pacific feminist agenda, Tonga says, “I hope people find hope, joy and empowerment from our declaration, and use it to form their own.”

• Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda is on show at the Auckland Art Gallery, from March 26 – July 31, 2022. Entry is free. For more details, click here.

This is a Public Interest Journalism funded role through NZ On Air

Public Interest Journalism logo

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.

Mapping the trajectory of feminism through contemporary Pacific art

Marti Friedlander, United Women’s Convention, Hamilton 1979. E H McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, on loan from the Gerrard and Marti Friedlander Charitable Trust, 2002.

Before the term ‘intersectionality’ became part of contemporary feminist vocabulary, it was paralleled in Indigenous knowledge - where interconnectedness, or kotahitanga, are not new, and often rooted in collective experiences of struggles for sovereignty.

Marti Friedlander’s iconic photograph captures the historical moment when Māori and Pacific women, led by Donna Awatere and Ramona Papali’i, issued a challenge to the organisers of the United Women’s Convention in 1979. Accusing the movement of racism and active exclusion from equal participation in the conference and more widely in society, these women demanded inclusion and are but prime examples of ‘intersectionality.’ 

The term was ‘officially’ coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights activist and law academic, finally giving language to an inherent value held by many indigenous people. Ane Tonga, the first Pacific art curator at Auckland Art Gallery Toi ō Tāmaki, used that photo to affirm that “feminism has always looked different for us”.

That approach informed Tonga when curating the gallery’s new exhibition Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda, set to open on Saturday March 26.

The exhibition looks at feminism through a Pacific lens, using the power of matrilineal knowledge and bringing to the fore the most pressing issues of our times: climate change, resilience, tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), activism and social justice. It confirms that a new Pacific feminist agenda has been appointed.

Jessicoco Hansell, Aunti FM: To be of Secret Service (Psychic Frequency Unknown). Installation. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2022.

A mirror is set to shine back on society through the help of 12 prominent Pacific artists: Jasmine Togo-Brisby, Marti Friedlander, Jessicoco Hansell, Taloi Havini, Lonnie Hutchinson, Ioane Ioane, Sione Monū, Suzanne Tamaki, Latai Taumoepeau, Molly Rangiwai-McHale, Luisa Tora and Kalisolaite ’Uhila.

Presenting major commissioned projects, rarely seen artworks and ephemera from institutional and private collections, Declaration builds a Pacific feminist trajectory with an approach that empowers the agency of all genders. Curator Tonga asserts that the exhibition is for everyone and says that feminism looks like “collective action”.

Many artists are in agreement that feminism looks different to everyone. This is especially the case for poet and artist Manu Vaeatangitau, who has seen traditionally western archetypes of gender as a “play of dominance”.’

“In reading missionary journals it was obvious that our roles were interchangeable and gender was always complimentary, even if they didn’t mean to say that. To me feminism is watching my aunties and cousins staying up late in the kitchen to ensure everyone has a good feast the next day. It looks like sacrifice.”

In a bid to challenge ignorance and uplift marginalised voices, Vaeatangitau and fellow artist Sione Monū have taken up the entire back window of the gallery with the work titled 'Kindred: A Leitī Chronicle.’ To be Leitī means to be ‘like a lady’ in Tongan.

Monū says they never saw themselves in the media growing up and wanted to create something that brings every Leitī on a journey of representation.

Five women are presented in a large portrait mural and have each been dressed in a range of garments. The women are partitioned off into colourful sections, almost emulating the stained-glass windows found in churches, with a pick of five mother Mary's for us to choose from. 

Sione Monū, Leitī from the Kafu Couture series.

Each of the women depicted have a significant place in the artists’ lives and have been adorned in beaded headdresses, giving each an aura of regality. It also reflects Monū’s belief that feminism looks like sisterhood.

“If it’s not in your face there is a chance you can miss it. We’re making this statement so Leitī can see themselves in the sisterhood.”

Jasmine Togo-Brisby is a Pacific artist who grew up in Australia, and whose work also features in the exhibition. Her whānau have roots in Vanuatu and were bought over by means of ‘blackbirding,’ which saw many Pacific Islanders poached from their homes and forced to labour on plantations in Australia. 

Togo-Brisby is on a mission to bring the story of not only her Granny but the stories of so many others to Declaration. Through the use of a ceiling installation she aims to physically challenge museum goers by literally forcing them to “change their perspective”. Using a ceiling centre with carvings of her matrilineal line plastered above, viewers are encouraged to “stare back” at those most affected by colonisation.

While in pursuit of her mission, Togo-Brisby believes it imperative to talk about all aspects of our history – the “good, bad and the ugly”.

“It’s important we have open, frank discussion about all of it, if we want to do something about our future. I see this exhibition as a chance to talk about the big things in a safe space.”

Curator Tonga says she has always aspired for such an exhibition and had great support from not only Toi ō Tāmaki but her communities too. The earnest support confirmed to Tonga that now is the right time for such a project.

“You can’t unlearn everything you see here, but I hope that those who come to the exhibition leave with a more enriched world view.”

As for her own Pacific feminist agenda, Tonga says, “I hope people find hope, joy and empowerment from our declaration, and use it to form their own.”

• Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda is on show at the Auckland Art Gallery, from March 26 – July 31, 2022. Entry is free. For more details, click here.

This is a Public Interest Journalism funded role through NZ On Air

Public Interest Journalism logo

No items found.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program

Mapping the trajectory of feminism through contemporary Pacific art

Marti Friedlander, United Women’s Convention, Hamilton 1979. E H McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, on loan from the Gerrard and Marti Friedlander Charitable Trust, 2002.

Before the term ‘intersectionality’ became part of contemporary feminist vocabulary, it was paralleled in Indigenous knowledge - where interconnectedness, or kotahitanga, are not new, and often rooted in collective experiences of struggles for sovereignty.

Marti Friedlander’s iconic photograph captures the historical moment when Māori and Pacific women, led by Donna Awatere and Ramona Papali’i, issued a challenge to the organisers of the United Women’s Convention in 1979. Accusing the movement of racism and active exclusion from equal participation in the conference and more widely in society, these women demanded inclusion and are but prime examples of ‘intersectionality.’ 

The term was ‘officially’ coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights activist and law academic, finally giving language to an inherent value held by many indigenous people. Ane Tonga, the first Pacific art curator at Auckland Art Gallery Toi ō Tāmaki, used that photo to affirm that “feminism has always looked different for us”.

That approach informed Tonga when curating the gallery’s new exhibition Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda, set to open on Saturday March 26.

The exhibition looks at feminism through a Pacific lens, using the power of matrilineal knowledge and bringing to the fore the most pressing issues of our times: climate change, resilience, tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), activism and social justice. It confirms that a new Pacific feminist agenda has been appointed.

Jessicoco Hansell, Aunti FM: To be of Secret Service (Psychic Frequency Unknown). Installation. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2022.

A mirror is set to shine back on society through the help of 12 prominent Pacific artists: Jasmine Togo-Brisby, Marti Friedlander, Jessicoco Hansell, Taloi Havini, Lonnie Hutchinson, Ioane Ioane, Sione Monū, Suzanne Tamaki, Latai Taumoepeau, Molly Rangiwai-McHale, Luisa Tora and Kalisolaite ’Uhila.

Presenting major commissioned projects, rarely seen artworks and ephemera from institutional and private collections, Declaration builds a Pacific feminist trajectory with an approach that empowers the agency of all genders. Curator Tonga asserts that the exhibition is for everyone and says that feminism looks like “collective action”.

Many artists are in agreement that feminism looks different to everyone. This is especially the case for poet and artist Manu Vaeatangitau, who has seen traditionally western archetypes of gender as a “play of dominance”.’

“In reading missionary journals it was obvious that our roles were interchangeable and gender was always complimentary, even if they didn’t mean to say that. To me feminism is watching my aunties and cousins staying up late in the kitchen to ensure everyone has a good feast the next day. It looks like sacrifice.”

In a bid to challenge ignorance and uplift marginalised voices, Vaeatangitau and fellow artist Sione Monū have taken up the entire back window of the gallery with the work titled 'Kindred: A Leitī Chronicle.’ To be Leitī means to be ‘like a lady’ in Tongan.

Monū says they never saw themselves in the media growing up and wanted to create something that brings every Leitī on a journey of representation.

Five women are presented in a large portrait mural and have each been dressed in a range of garments. The women are partitioned off into colourful sections, almost emulating the stained-glass windows found in churches, with a pick of five mother Mary's for us to choose from. 

Sione Monū, Leitī from the Kafu Couture series.

Each of the women depicted have a significant place in the artists’ lives and have been adorned in beaded headdresses, giving each an aura of regality. It also reflects Monū’s belief that feminism looks like sisterhood.

“If it’s not in your face there is a chance you can miss it. We’re making this statement so Leitī can see themselves in the sisterhood.”

Jasmine Togo-Brisby is a Pacific artist who grew up in Australia, and whose work also features in the exhibition. Her whānau have roots in Vanuatu and were bought over by means of ‘blackbirding,’ which saw many Pacific Islanders poached from their homes and forced to labour on plantations in Australia. 

Togo-Brisby is on a mission to bring the story of not only her Granny but the stories of so many others to Declaration. Through the use of a ceiling installation she aims to physically challenge museum goers by literally forcing them to “change their perspective”. Using a ceiling centre with carvings of her matrilineal line plastered above, viewers are encouraged to “stare back” at those most affected by colonisation.

While in pursuit of her mission, Togo-Brisby believes it imperative to talk about all aspects of our history – the “good, bad and the ugly”.

“It’s important we have open, frank discussion about all of it, if we want to do something about our future. I see this exhibition as a chance to talk about the big things in a safe space.”

Curator Tonga says she has always aspired for such an exhibition and had great support from not only Toi ō Tāmaki but her communities too. The earnest support confirmed to Tonga that now is the right time for such a project.

“You can’t unlearn everything you see here, but I hope that those who come to the exhibition leave with a more enriched world view.”

As for her own Pacific feminist agenda, Tonga says, “I hope people find hope, joy and empowerment from our declaration, and use it to form their own.”

• Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda is on show at the Auckland Art Gallery, from March 26 – July 31, 2022. Entry is free. For more details, click here.

This is a Public Interest Journalism funded role through NZ On Air

Public Interest Journalism logo

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.
Marti Friedlander, United Women’s Convention, Hamilton 1979. E H McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, on loan from the Gerrard and Marti Friedlander Charitable Trust, 2002.

Before the term ‘intersectionality’ became part of contemporary feminist vocabulary, it was paralleled in Indigenous knowledge - where interconnectedness, or kotahitanga, are not new, and often rooted in collective experiences of struggles for sovereignty.

Marti Friedlander’s iconic photograph captures the historical moment when Māori and Pacific women, led by Donna Awatere and Ramona Papali’i, issued a challenge to the organisers of the United Women’s Convention in 1979. Accusing the movement of racism and active exclusion from equal participation in the conference and more widely in society, these women demanded inclusion and are but prime examples of ‘intersectionality.’ 

The term was ‘officially’ coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights activist and law academic, finally giving language to an inherent value held by many indigenous people. Ane Tonga, the first Pacific art curator at Auckland Art Gallery Toi ō Tāmaki, used that photo to affirm that “feminism has always looked different for us”.

That approach informed Tonga when curating the gallery’s new exhibition Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda, set to open on Saturday March 26.

The exhibition looks at feminism through a Pacific lens, using the power of matrilineal knowledge and bringing to the fore the most pressing issues of our times: climate change, resilience, tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), activism and social justice. It confirms that a new Pacific feminist agenda has been appointed.

Jessicoco Hansell, Aunti FM: To be of Secret Service (Psychic Frequency Unknown). Installation. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2022.

A mirror is set to shine back on society through the help of 12 prominent Pacific artists: Jasmine Togo-Brisby, Marti Friedlander, Jessicoco Hansell, Taloi Havini, Lonnie Hutchinson, Ioane Ioane, Sione Monū, Suzanne Tamaki, Latai Taumoepeau, Molly Rangiwai-McHale, Luisa Tora and Kalisolaite ’Uhila.

Presenting major commissioned projects, rarely seen artworks and ephemera from institutional and private collections, Declaration builds a Pacific feminist trajectory with an approach that empowers the agency of all genders. Curator Tonga asserts that the exhibition is for everyone and says that feminism looks like “collective action”.

Many artists are in agreement that feminism looks different to everyone. This is especially the case for poet and artist Manu Vaeatangitau, who has seen traditionally western archetypes of gender as a “play of dominance”.’

“In reading missionary journals it was obvious that our roles were interchangeable and gender was always complimentary, even if they didn’t mean to say that. To me feminism is watching my aunties and cousins staying up late in the kitchen to ensure everyone has a good feast the next day. It looks like sacrifice.”

In a bid to challenge ignorance and uplift marginalised voices, Vaeatangitau and fellow artist Sione Monū have taken up the entire back window of the gallery with the work titled 'Kindred: A Leitī Chronicle.’ To be Leitī means to be ‘like a lady’ in Tongan.

Monū says they never saw themselves in the media growing up and wanted to create something that brings every Leitī on a journey of representation.

Five women are presented in a large portrait mural and have each been dressed in a range of garments. The women are partitioned off into colourful sections, almost emulating the stained-glass windows found in churches, with a pick of five mother Mary's for us to choose from. 

Sione Monū, Leitī from the Kafu Couture series.

Each of the women depicted have a significant place in the artists’ lives and have been adorned in beaded headdresses, giving each an aura of regality. It also reflects Monū’s belief that feminism looks like sisterhood.

“If it’s not in your face there is a chance you can miss it. We’re making this statement so Leitī can see themselves in the sisterhood.”

Jasmine Togo-Brisby is a Pacific artist who grew up in Australia, and whose work also features in the exhibition. Her whānau have roots in Vanuatu and were bought over by means of ‘blackbirding,’ which saw many Pacific Islanders poached from their homes and forced to labour on plantations in Australia. 

Togo-Brisby is on a mission to bring the story of not only her Granny but the stories of so many others to Declaration. Through the use of a ceiling installation she aims to physically challenge museum goers by literally forcing them to “change their perspective”. Using a ceiling centre with carvings of her matrilineal line plastered above, viewers are encouraged to “stare back” at those most affected by colonisation.

While in pursuit of her mission, Togo-Brisby believes it imperative to talk about all aspects of our history – the “good, bad and the ugly”.

“It’s important we have open, frank discussion about all of it, if we want to do something about our future. I see this exhibition as a chance to talk about the big things in a safe space.”

Curator Tonga says she has always aspired for such an exhibition and had great support from not only Toi ō Tāmaki but her communities too. The earnest support confirmed to Tonga that now is the right time for such a project.

“You can’t unlearn everything you see here, but I hope that those who come to the exhibition leave with a more enriched world view.”

As for her own Pacific feminist agenda, Tonga says, “I hope people find hope, joy and empowerment from our declaration, and use it to form their own.”

• Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda is on show at the Auckland Art Gallery, from March 26 – July 31, 2022. Entry is free. For more details, click here.

This is a Public Interest Journalism funded role through NZ On Air

Public Interest Journalism logo

No items found.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program

Mapping the trajectory of feminism through contemporary Pacific art

Marti Friedlander, United Women’s Convention, Hamilton 1979. E H McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, on loan from the Gerrard and Marti Friedlander Charitable Trust, 2002.

Before the term ‘intersectionality’ became part of contemporary feminist vocabulary, it was paralleled in Indigenous knowledge - where interconnectedness, or kotahitanga, are not new, and often rooted in collective experiences of struggles for sovereignty.

Marti Friedlander’s iconic photograph captures the historical moment when Māori and Pacific women, led by Donna Awatere and Ramona Papali’i, issued a challenge to the organisers of the United Women’s Convention in 1979. Accusing the movement of racism and active exclusion from equal participation in the conference and more widely in society, these women demanded inclusion and are but prime examples of ‘intersectionality.’ 

The term was ‘officially’ coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights activist and law academic, finally giving language to an inherent value held by many indigenous people. Ane Tonga, the first Pacific art curator at Auckland Art Gallery Toi ō Tāmaki, used that photo to affirm that “feminism has always looked different for us”.

That approach informed Tonga when curating the gallery’s new exhibition Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda, set to open on Saturday March 26.

The exhibition looks at feminism through a Pacific lens, using the power of matrilineal knowledge and bringing to the fore the most pressing issues of our times: climate change, resilience, tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), activism and social justice. It confirms that a new Pacific feminist agenda has been appointed.

Jessicoco Hansell, Aunti FM: To be of Secret Service (Psychic Frequency Unknown). Installation. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2022.

A mirror is set to shine back on society through the help of 12 prominent Pacific artists: Jasmine Togo-Brisby, Marti Friedlander, Jessicoco Hansell, Taloi Havini, Lonnie Hutchinson, Ioane Ioane, Sione Monū, Suzanne Tamaki, Latai Taumoepeau, Molly Rangiwai-McHale, Luisa Tora and Kalisolaite ’Uhila.

Presenting major commissioned projects, rarely seen artworks and ephemera from institutional and private collections, Declaration builds a Pacific feminist trajectory with an approach that empowers the agency of all genders. Curator Tonga asserts that the exhibition is for everyone and says that feminism looks like “collective action”.

Many artists are in agreement that feminism looks different to everyone. This is especially the case for poet and artist Manu Vaeatangitau, who has seen traditionally western archetypes of gender as a “play of dominance”.’

“In reading missionary journals it was obvious that our roles were interchangeable and gender was always complimentary, even if they didn’t mean to say that. To me feminism is watching my aunties and cousins staying up late in the kitchen to ensure everyone has a good feast the next day. It looks like sacrifice.”

In a bid to challenge ignorance and uplift marginalised voices, Vaeatangitau and fellow artist Sione Monū have taken up the entire back window of the gallery with the work titled 'Kindred: A Leitī Chronicle.’ To be Leitī means to be ‘like a lady’ in Tongan.

Monū says they never saw themselves in the media growing up and wanted to create something that brings every Leitī on a journey of representation.

Five women are presented in a large portrait mural and have each been dressed in a range of garments. The women are partitioned off into colourful sections, almost emulating the stained-glass windows found in churches, with a pick of five mother Mary's for us to choose from. 

Sione Monū, Leitī from the Kafu Couture series.

Each of the women depicted have a significant place in the artists’ lives and have been adorned in beaded headdresses, giving each an aura of regality. It also reflects Monū’s belief that feminism looks like sisterhood.

“If it’s not in your face there is a chance you can miss it. We’re making this statement so Leitī can see themselves in the sisterhood.”

Jasmine Togo-Brisby is a Pacific artist who grew up in Australia, and whose work also features in the exhibition. Her whānau have roots in Vanuatu and were bought over by means of ‘blackbirding,’ which saw many Pacific Islanders poached from their homes and forced to labour on plantations in Australia. 

Togo-Brisby is on a mission to bring the story of not only her Granny but the stories of so many others to Declaration. Through the use of a ceiling installation she aims to physically challenge museum goers by literally forcing them to “change their perspective”. Using a ceiling centre with carvings of her matrilineal line plastered above, viewers are encouraged to “stare back” at those most affected by colonisation.

While in pursuit of her mission, Togo-Brisby believes it imperative to talk about all aspects of our history – the “good, bad and the ugly”.

“It’s important we have open, frank discussion about all of it, if we want to do something about our future. I see this exhibition as a chance to talk about the big things in a safe space.”

Curator Tonga says she has always aspired for such an exhibition and had great support from not only Toi ō Tāmaki but her communities too. The earnest support confirmed to Tonga that now is the right time for such a project.

“You can’t unlearn everything you see here, but I hope that those who come to the exhibition leave with a more enriched world view.”

As for her own Pacific feminist agenda, Tonga says, “I hope people find hope, joy and empowerment from our declaration, and use it to form their own.”

• Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda is on show at the Auckland Art Gallery, from March 26 – July 31, 2022. Entry is free. For more details, click here.

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