Queen Fiapoto: Switch, Code, Reverse and the Exploration of Self
Brought to life by Malae Collective, Tautai’s most recent exhibition is a collection of nostalgic works examining the multifaceted nature of Sāmoan identities. The work is grounded in community, which spilled off the walls and throughout the space in last week’s Garage Sale—bringing market stalls, food, and music in to disrupt the typically sterile art gallery vibe with childhood memories of garage parties—somewhere to host, gather, and create.
The gallery was pressed with people the entire time I was at the Garage Sale, filling it with a humming warmth against the autumn rain. We browsed thrifting pop-ups, second-hand books, and handmade treasures, then grabbed food while taking in the artwork. Tautai seems purpose-built for togetherness, with a library of art books and long tables filled with people working, laughing, trying on their new gear—kava and music flowing around them. Highlights included trinkets and jewellery by @nila_by_louisa , plus-size streetwear by @lzo.clothes, and a limited edition merch drop from UoA’s very own VA’A Pasifika Arts Association (vaauoa and vaastorageroom).
Every inch of the space is adorned with the works of one of the five Samoan multidisciplinary artists belonging to Malae Collective; their diverse representations of identity contrasting and compounding to create an amalgamation of vibrancy and culture. Karita Siakisini’s series of three paintings reframe the everyday, depicting the likes of garage haircuts, smoking cigarettes on a fala mat and aunties prepping food in the kitchen. Created with strong textural sections and collaged elements, these works highlight the multifaceted nature of Sāmoan identities, seamlessly blending themes of both tradition and modernity.
On the opposite wall sits a series of five photographs by Elena Folau. The same model, Folau’s sister, appears in every frame, with her appearance drastically shifting from one to the next. On the far left is a close-up in which the model is cast in a hazy, sunset glow. She stares down the barrel of the camera, chin tilted up and eyes piercing those of the viewer. Another depicts her from a low angle, clad in a leather jacket and brimming with power.
As you make your way to the back of the exhibition, you’ll come across a hidden space. Furnished with couches and beanbags, the screening room shows the profound videography of Lokelani Folau. The film presents three versions of the artist’s self; the first is clad in a full face mask, adorned with seashells, denoting a more guarded presentation of self. The second depicts Lokelani in a seashell necklace and bold red lip, representing an increase in outward confidence yet maintaining a sense of mystery. The third depicts the artist clad in a commanding red look, signifying the emergence of complete confidence.
Lefaataualofa Totua’s contribution populates a corner of the gallery with a medley of elements, ranging from furniture to weaving to collage. Bringing to mind works such as Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed,’ this installation serves as a window into the artist’s life. A brown set of drawers is adorned with baby photos, glassware and books. And hanging above is a series of collages made from elements such as Bongo chip packets, LCM wrappers, beaded necklaces and newspaper clippings. These collages represent the assortment of elements making up one’s identity; a vibrant assemblage demonstrating the complexity of the self. Three more works hang below, each resembling a kind of bingo card pertaining to masks and emotions that hold personal significance to the artist.
Finally, the remaining corner is enlivened by Eseta Le‘au, the wordsmith of the collective. Le’au presents a series of poems, examining the roles of Samoan women within their communities. Shown alongside a home video, this collection of work illuminates the power of these women, both paying homage and celebrating their impact.
The amalgamation of works by each member of the Malae Collective comes together as a poignant exploration of Pacifica diaspora. The exhibition is immersive, vulnerable and empowering, calling upon viewers to critically examine their own sense of self through vibrant art, interactive features and a custom-built sense of community.