The Private Letter Becomes Public: The 1620 Collection, focuses on personal interpretations of lea mu‘a (proverbs) and lea Faka-Tonga (Tongan language), which I have translated into kupesi symbols to produce a contemporary/traditional Tongan ngatu. My research utilises the visual language of ancient Tonga and today’s lea Faka-Tonga to portray tala tukufakaholo (oral traditions) with my family, collections of knowledge about the history of my hingoa fakafamili (family names), tupu‘anga (ancestors), and manatu (memories) about my Nena and myself. This tala tukufakaholo tātānaki (collecting of oral traditions) reflects the past tala tupu‘a (myths and legends handed down from ancient times) and the space the ngatu occupies. It is present in my art practice and relates to the notion of learning through listening, observing, and doing. The focus within my making explores how this mode of practice can position itself in a contemporary space of artmaking.
This particular work was created in Tonga, at my grandma’s house in Pelehake, using contemporary methods and processes on traditional material. This work talks about the notion of time and space. The relationship between people and the past and materials and the lands. The first part of this work is a stamped and screen-printed feta’aki (undyed barkcloth) and pepa koka’anga (vylene paper) with traditional and contemporary kupesi. I borrowed the practice of tautau pe tauaki (to hung or to dry) as a process that my ancestors used as one of the methods of ngatu making. The process of tauaki is known as one of the methods used after beating the mulberry paper to its size and letting it dry by hanging it onto the clothing lines. This particular work references the concepts of labor and freedom. As you hang up the final piece of feta’aki, you feel relief because you are done after a long day of labor. Each piece will story-tell their individual stories about their relationship to the maker, the materials, place, belongings, and most importantly, time. The second part of this work is a small puha fakafamili (family box), a copy of a puha fakafamili, which belongs to my great great-grandmother, Manu Tu‘ipulotu. This family puha has been passed down through 5 generations and is now with my generation. I have spent 13 years with this family puha, as it was handed down from my Nena’s mother, ‘Uhila Lahi. The puha will act as a component used to deliver the work from home, Pelehake Tonga, to their new space, Aotearoa, New Zealand.
I am ‘Uhila Moe Langi Kanongata‘a Nai, a Tongan New Zealand-born artist, who emigrated to Tonga with my Nena (Grandmother) ‘Ana Va’inga Pautā in 1999. I lived there until the end of 2011, when I immigrated back to New Zealand. I was 13. I grew up watching my Nena making Tongan traditional arts and crafts, especially the crafts of ngatu and kupesi making in the small village of Pelehake on the East-Side of Tonga. The traditional practice of ngatu and kupesi are the central focus of my practice. My research forms a personal path of knowledge as I learn more about their history. My practice seeks a way to generate a new space that has the potential to allow the work to exist on its terms; without having to fit within a contemporary Western art framework.
I completed the Bachelor of Visual Arts in 2018; and then Master in Visual Arts (First Class Honours) from Auckland University of Technology (2020). I have also received multiple awards, including the BC Collective Indigenous Award, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki Award for high achievement (one-year gallery membership), AUT Research Masters Scholarship, Va Moana Pacific Spatial Postgraduate, and the Adobe Creative for Creative Use of Software Award. In 2015, I received first place at MAGS Art Students Exhibition, Pat Hanly Art Student Award and The Ara Lodge Fine Arts Award.
I have exhibited extensively in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland:
2020: The Heart Athletes at Demo 3.O; Meld, the continuous line at AUT; AUT Matariki Master of Visual Arts Exhibition.
2018: Tautai Tertiary Exhibition, And Then What?; AUT Talk Week, Tauaki pea Tapelu; AUT Pilot Show Exhibition, Mag Pie.
2017: AUT Post Pilot Show Exhibition, Founga Tatai Mea Tatau (Same Method Different Material), Raynham Park Studio Shared Space, Karangahape Road.
2014 – 2015: Mount Albert Grammar Students Art Show, Mount Albert
Memorial Hall, Mount Albert, Auckland.