Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Celebrating Lily Laita: A trailblazer in the arts community

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Lily Laita, during Tautai’s Sculpture Symposium, 1996. Photo: Tautai Pacific Arts Trust.
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Kendall Vano | Reporter

The Pacific Arts Community is mourning the loss of a much loved and celebrated artist, Lily Laita.

Born to Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga, Tanugamanono, Samoa heritage, Lily Laita’s journey in the world of art began in the 1980s. 

She was among the first wave of Pacific artists to pursue Fine Arts in Aotearoa, emerging as a leader of her generation in the realm of expressive painting and creativity. 

Laita earned her Bachelor’s degree from Elam, University of Auckland, in 1990, later returning to complete her Master’s in Painting in 2002. 

Her commitment to education also led her to obtain a Diploma in teaching in 1991, and she became one of the most highly respected arts educators in the country.

Throughout her illustrious career, Lily Laita showcased her remarkable talent through a multitude of exhibitions.

Her artistry graced venues like Te Moemoea no Iotefa, the Sargeant Gallery, and its subsequent tour (1990-91), as well as the renowned Bottled Ocean exhibition at City Gallery, Wellington, and its subsequent tour in 1993-94. 

Her artistic influence extended to international platforms with her participation in the Tu Fa’atasi International Festival of the Arts in 1994. 

Photo: Tautai Pacific Arts Trust.

The Seventh South Pacific Festival of the Arts in Western Samoa in 1996, and many other significant exhibitions.

Lily was also a vital member of the VAhine collective alongside New Zealand-born Samoan artists Lonnie Hutchinson and Niki Hastings McFall. Their collective efforts were recognized with the Creative New Zealand and National University of Samoa Artist in Residence award in 2012.

Over a span of three decades, Laita’s art was a reflection of her deep exploration of cultural traditions, complexity, and the essence of her heritage. 

Karen Stevenson, an art connoisseur, described Laita’s work as a “visual language reflecting the complexity and importance of these traditions.” 

“New Zealand born positioning re/presentation of the myth – the clichè – offers a cultural critique and underlies this growing artistic movement. Drawing upon culture, tradition and identity, these women have created a niche that is uniquely theirs”. 

Beyond her role as an artist, Laita dedicated herself to the realm of education, serving as a painting lecturer at Wanganui Polytech and holding the position of Head of Department at Western Springs. 

Her influence extended to various creative trusts and boards, including Creative New Zealand, Tautai, and NZQA, where her insights and passion for the arts had a profound impact.

Lily Laita’s passing is a great loss to the arts community, but her legacy will continue to inspire and guide future generations of artists and educators. 

Fa’afetai tele lava, Lily, for your service – Rest In Peace (1969-2023). 

Your memory and impact on the world of art will forever endure.



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