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Tongan artists in town to show off unique works

'Alakihihifo Vailala

From drinking kava under the stars to exhibiting art internationally, skilled artisans from Tonga are in Auckland to showcase their work.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

The Seleka International Arts Society Initiative is a collective based in Haveluloto, in Tongatapu, Tonga and which has provided a home for more than 100 local artists since 2008.

The collective was established when founders Tevita Latu, Taniela Petelo and Peni Fangufangu shared an interest in art and music and began drawing a crowd to their nightly kava drinking sessions - where they would create art.

Latu has a degree in fine arts from the National Art School in Sydney but after completing his studies, he decided to return to Tonga and subsequently started up Seleka.

When asked about why he makes art, Latu says: “Ko ‘eku hanga ia ō tukuange ki tu’a ae ū me’a ‘oku ou lava ō sio ki ai i mamani, pea ‘oku ou hanga ō fakatatau ae me’a ko ia ō fakahā mai ki tu’a ki mamani. Ko kita ia, ko au ia. Koe founga ia o ‘eku fakamatala me’a”.

“Creating art is my way of conveying my perspective on the world,” he says.

“I reinterpret and communicate this viewpoint for all to witness - it’s a reflection of my identity, a true representation of myself. This is how I narrate my tale.”

Through Seleka, Taniela Petelo became one of Latu’s first art students, later displaying his artwork at a local cafe and marking his debut exhibition of many to come.

Petelo says that his love for drawing started during primary school, filling his school books with illustrations instead of class assignments.

Petelo says his family were always very supportive of his passion for art and encouraged him to pursue it.

The collective has gone on to exhibit their artwork internationally as far as Poland, Japan and France.

Although Covid made it more difficult for the group to find work, they kept themselves busy locally by painting murals and travelling to the outer islands of Tonga to run art workshops in Primary schools.

Seleka is now in Auckland to participate in two art exhibitions.

Teaming up with Auckland artist Ercan Cairns, Friends + Family is a group exhibition involving nine local and international artists that teaches young people about visual arts from a Maori and Pacific perspective.

This exhibition is now showing at The Arts House Trust, Pah Homestead, in Auckland.

Seleka will also be participating in a second art exhibition called ‘Kuo ‘Aho Ia?’ which translates to ‘Has morning come?’, a collaboration with Four Shells Kava Lounge.

“Koe fuofua faka’ali’ali fakatātā eni a mau tolu faka kulupu ‘oku mau lava o fakahoko ki tu’a me i Tonga fakataha.”

Petelo says this is the collective’s first international art exhibition together as a group.

He says the idea for the exhibition originated from the group only making art during the night, becoming engrossed in their work to the point of losing track of time and being unaware of the arrival of morning.

This exhibition is being held today at the Four Shells Kava Lounge. The group is also looking at holding a workshop in Taranaki in preparation for their residency.

To keep up to date, follow Seleka International Art Society Initiative on Facebook.

Hero image// A colourful mural in Tonga by artists from the Seleka International Arts Society Initiative. Photo / Supplied

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