The Final Project of Samoan-Scottish Auckland resident Jimmy Ma’ia’i
USO 4 LIFE is an art installation and final thesis project straight from the mind of Auckland native and Avondale resident Jimmy Ma’ia’i. USO 4 LIFE was inspired by many nuanced experiences that occurred in the artist’s life. Jimmy walks between worlds. Being bicultural has meant that the artist has existed at the intersections between the Samoan world and the Pākehā world, as well as his culture’s art realm and a Pākehā art dichotomy. Being both Samoan and Scottish, Jimmy decides for himself what experiences have shaped who he is, and hopes that some individuals can find some elements of shared experiences within his project.
Due to colonisation, there are many who aren’t able to relate fully to aspects of their culture. While we can appreciate it, we are excluded from fully being able to understand it. Jimmy acknowledges his culture but wants to create something new. The Samoan art world has a rich history, but Jimmy’s art speaks to a different intersectional experience. The title USO 4 Life and aspects of the installation acknowledge a cultural identity within a different environmental context. Resilience, shared experiences, and contextual cultural identity form a basis for USO 4 LIFE.
Each element of the installation speaks to a different formative experience within the artist’s life. Craccum sat down with Jimmy to chat about intersectionality in art practice, making art for those with his shared experience, and the meaning behind the pieces within the installation.
Omni: Kia ora e hoa, tell me your name and where you’re from.
Jimmy: My name is Jimmy Ma’ia’i and I’m of mixed Samoan/Scottish descent and I’ve lived in Auckland my whole life.
O: Where did the name USO 4 LIFE come from?
J: The title USO 4 LIFE came from a fond memory I have of my first trip to Samoa. We hopped onto one of those iconic Samoan buses and it was packed—nowhere to sit. I remember a woman signalled for me to sit on her lap, so I did; and in that moment I thought to myself, this is what it’s like being a Samoan boy, lol. Anyways, when we hopped off at our stop, I recall admiring the mural on the back of bus, which read “USO 4 LIFE”.
O: What experiences did you draw from to inform your creation of this installation?
J: I spent about half of my Masters project making things that had a sort-of meditative process, which allowed me the time to reminisce and reflect. Many of these reflections were of childhood experiences, particularly those [that] I felt were pertinent to the development or understanding of my culture and self-identity. I also wanted to acknowledge not only my experiences in this project but also those of my aiga or family. This kinda kept things in line with the family-centric values of Fa’a Samoa.
O: During my visit to the installation, you talked about wanting to create something nuanced that others could only relate to in a similar way to which you experienced them. Could you tell us more?
J: I wanted to create works [that] alluded to something “Samoan” or something “traditional” without trying to make an exact replica of an artform [that] already has a rich history. There are a few reasons for this. I wanted to display an engagement with culture without necessarily knowing the culture—an attempt at understanding. I think feeling culturally dislocated played a big part in this, in the sense that my experience with objects like the clubs or the tanoa or kava bowl for example, was very much surface-level.
I also tried to combine these “traditional” looking artifacts with something modern or foreign—not to make a hybridised version but to make something new perhaps. Ultimately, I wanted to create a body of work that could celebrate the mixed-heritage existence, hinting at experiences that are shared amongst those of mixed heritage.
O: You spoke about resilience during our chat, can you speak about what resilience means with regards to the project?
J: I think my dad had instilled my sister and I with this thick skin, I suppose, likely in response to his childhood experiences as a Samoan boy in the 70s-80s growing up in Auckland. This was no doubt informed by my grandfather’s experiences in New Zealand, too. The thick skin is present in the wooden works, where I’ve finished them with a thick gloss coating. Another form of resilience I think was learned through humour—being roasted relentlessly. This humor is most evident in the chairs, which display a childish gaze upon the effects of colonisation.
USO 4 LIFE is in the process of being exhibited at multiple venues in Auckland and Wellington.