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Pacific women celebrated for their achievements in the arts

Alakihihifo Vailala

Significant contributions to the arts, film and festivals are behind three Pacific women receiving their NZOM.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Three Pacific women have been recognised for their services to the arts in both New Zealand and around the region.

Christine Mary (Kira) Hundleby, Phillippa Agnes Laufio and Vaosa ole Tagaloa Makerita Urale have all been made members of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the recent New Year Honours announced on December 30.

Hundleby, who is the current co-Chair of the Melanesian Steering Group for the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, says she’s grateful to be named and calls the arts space a beautiful one.

“I think the most important role in the arts is our connection to the community … and being able to work with creatives, makers, artists and creators is a beautiful place to be.”

Hundleby is an artist, creative producer and social justice advocate for Melanesian and Pacific peoples.

In 2012, she co-founded Hundleby and Chalmers Productions who specialise in planning fine art events and productions where she currently works as a director and producer.

She also was the co-founder and creator of the World Peace Day Festival 2015, working in partnership with local iwi, government partners, community organisations and Pacific communities to support this event in Dunedin.

Most notably, Hundleby has helped include Solomon Islands Pisin and Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin into the 2024 Pacific Language weeks.

“I’ve been part of that leadership since I was born so my parents were sort of leading that waka forward and this is me continuing the work … because both my mum and dad have passed now."

She says she was brought up to be really strong advocate for her Solomon Islands community, as her parents helped start the first Solomon Islands group in New Zealand.

Supporting the arts and culture in Dunedin

Phillipa Laufiso has been a strong advocate for the Pacific community, particularly in Dunedin.

Laufiso has been an education adviser for Priority Learners with the Ministry of Education for Southland/Otago for almost a decade.

In this role she specialises in advocating for students who’ve been identified as historically not experiencing success in the New Zealand schooling system which include Māori and Pacific learners.

She has also volunteered as a committee member, trustee and co-chair of the Otago Polyfest, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year.

Laufiso says she’s proud of how far Otago Polyfest has come and being able to build capability and capacity ground up.

“So from our own communities, our Māori and Pacific communities, we’ve been able to build skills and capabilities. Give young people in our community opportunities because our communities run the Polyfest.”

Laufiso says she had to think about whether or not to accept the award as she’s had family members who’ve turned down the honour.

“A lot of people are deserving of this recognition and even for me, Polyfest is a whole team … some of us have been through the fire together for quite a number of years.”

She says her mother, the late Agnes Mary (Eti) Ivala-Laufiso JP, was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal in 1990 and also had mixed feelings about accepting it.

However Laufiso says she has taken the award as a continuation of elevating the arts.

“I had a thought about it, a lot about my late mother, my family, my community and particularly the Pacific arts ... I’ve always believed that the arts is such a powerful vehicle for learning and understanding.

“Elevating the arts is important to me so I thought okay, this is all part of the strategy.”

Writer and documentary maker honoured

Vaosa ole Tagaloa Makerita Urale's work as a writer, documentary director and arts producer in New Zealand and internationally for more than 20 years has also been acknowledged in the recent New Year Honour's list.

According to her New Zealand Order of Merit citation, Urale's play Frangipani Perfume (1998) was the first Pacific play written by a woman with an all-female cast and was listed in the Top 10 Plays of the Decade by the New Zealand Listener.

This play became a key text in theatre studies and toured nationally and internationally to Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

She also directed Children of the Revolution, a political documentary which explored the 1970s and 1980s protest movement, following six key activists and their children.

This documentary won the Best Māori Programme at the 2008 Qantas Awards. She directed and produced Savage Symbols (2002), which looked at the traditional art of Samoan tattooing (pe’a) for men.

A Fulbright New Zealand alumni, Ms Urale has also played a key role in the development of Creative New Zealand’s inaugural Pacific Arts Strategy.

Hero image: From left; Christine Mary (Kira) Hundleby, Phillippa Agnes Laufio and Makerita Urale. Photo / Supplied

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