ELAM Alumnus Tai Nimo on representation and Tautai’s Fundraiser for Tonga
“We’re here for each other.”
The Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust has rallied with a group of Tongan artists, based in Aotearoa, to create the Tautai Tonga Relief Fundraiser. Following the devastation of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcanic eruption, this initiative looks to raise support for the people of Tonga. The fundraiser closes on the 20th of March, and features a long list of talented artists.
One name in particular stood out for us here at Craccum. Tai Nimo, a previous contributor and freshly graduated UoA alumni (she worked hard to kick Summer School’s butt), has put forward a striking piece for the Tautai fundraiser. In the lazy hours of a Sunday afternoon, we greeted each other brightly across a Zoom link and chatted about all things Craccum, artistic outreach initiatives and the excitement that grows from Tai’s creative process.
Reflecting on your time at UoA and ELAM, what kind of lessons and advice would you pass on to students now?
In my degree, we don’t necessarily get set up for internships… in the Arts it’s quite hard! Making friends outside of my degree was really awesome. Now I have friends that have different opportunities and being able to watch them do that, and to have that network is really awesome. That’s also through Craccum, meeting everyone and seeing people go off on their own pathways. It was important for me to branch out and meet a mixture of people, and not just stay in the same boat.
I wasn’t scared of hitting someone up and saying, “Hey, I love your work,” and “Hey, I want to hangout.” I made some really cool friendships [tapping into those networks]. Don’t be scared to be yourself and branch out to people you might not see yourself with.
You’ve mentioned that it’s a little difficult to get involved in internships through some Arts programs. How did you get involved with Tautai?
I saw a post on their Instagram that said they were having these artist residencies, but all from inside your own house. I knew some people at ELAM who had done it, and when it came around the next year I thought I would give it a go. I was like, “I have nothing to lose, who cares?” I didn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t want to get my hopes up in case I didn’t get it… it was nice to have that little secret for myself. And then I got an email! It was really exciting.
Can you explain a little bit about the piece that you’ve chosen to put forward for the fundraiser?
Well, I have this really cool fan.
[Tai wiggles the fan and we both giggle.]
My parents went to Tonga, because they love to go travelling without me while I study. Basically the whole family has gone to the islands without me, which is fine. They brought me back this really cool fan. I looked at the details of how versatile the fan is in the Pacific and how it’s used in everyday life, and how it protects us from the sun… real cliché, but I felt like it was still cool and relates to what we’re doing.
I don’t really have a name for the work, and left it up to interpretation, I guess. I used more earthy browns and tones like that.
How do you feel about being involved in the fundraiser?
[Being involved] is so cool. Obviously, it’s really devastating, and I felt really grateful to be a part of this because it’s a way I could contribute and help out. [I could] contribute to something where people can get amongst it, and then have some really cool artwork in their home or office. I felt it was a beautiful idea. It’s respectful as well, and they asked us to be mindful of the work we put forward. I’m really grateful to be a part of it.
It’s really nice to be able to support the artists as well as the fundraiser itself!
Especially having that with a Pacific gallery driving this. That’s really cool.
And have you got to see any other pieces from other artists?
Yes, I have. Obviously, they’ve put forward Tongan artists who are based in Aotearoa, so it’s quite interesting to see the different styles, and how they portray themselves as Tongan through these pieces. That’s really awesome, and it’s so interesting to see how other people approach it! Such beautiful works—I’m so excited for when they come out because I’m going to get heaps of them too.
That type of self-portrait form seems to be really common in your work!
To be honest, sometimes I don’t have a reference, so I have to use myself! I’ve had comments from people, “that’s boring, why would you do yourself? You should use other people?” To me, I’m like, nah, that’s more special. I’m letting people into a new world, of how I see myself, and allowing them to see that.
In using so much of yourself, are there moments that feel scary or exciting?
When my first fellowship came out, I had some messages from people like, “Wow, I’m mixed too, and I’ve never been able to relate to someone else until I saw your work.” I’m not saying that in an arrogant, egotistical way—it was just so nice to hear, because it was like, wow, finally someone actually gets it! For me, that’s exciting because it’s reaching another audience that didn’t feel understood most of the time.
And you’ve also put forward illustrations for the Ministry of Health campaign too. How do you feel about this space in between your art and initiatives like these?
Yeah, it’s almost like a mediator or a bridge. Honestly, I just thought let’s do some fun little drawings, and I never thought it would be something as big as this. I’ve always been super active when it’s something I feel compelled about, like racism, or Black Lives Matter. I’m really glad and happy to be involved with that [campaign]. I think it was nice to have that representation out there too, from one of our Pacific mixed kids.
There are heaps of people that are visual learners, and I don’t think we were recognising them in this type of education and commercialised art. I’ve always wanted to be in commercialised art, advertising, and marketing, because people need to see visually as well. I really believe in the power of visualisation, in that way!
What are your reflections on this Tautai fundraiser?
I think it’s a great opportunity to give back to our Pacific brothers and sisters. I think it’s important to acknowledge what has happened and to try our best [to support]… if you can. You receive something, when you donate, which you normally don’t. [Here], when it comes to supporting Tonga as well as Tongan Aotearoa-based artists, you get to receive a little bit of them. I think that’s a really beautiful way of support. We’re here for each other.
You can find Tai’s work on her Instagram @taiz.art