Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Samoan artist inspires the next generation through his work

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Neueli Mauafu | Reporter

Pioneering Samoan artist Iosua To’afa might not be well known, but his work has laid the foundation for aspiring artists in the community.

Iosua To’afa, a name that may not get as much attention in the arts arena but he’s definitely a pioneering artist in the Pacific.

With a career that included work in Samoa and American Samoa, To’afa is best known for his illustrations in the 1976 book ‘Tala o le Vavau/Myths and Legends of Samoa’.

While his work is finally gaining the recognition it deserves, To’afa has been living with Parkinson’s disease for many decades, crippling his health and ability to do more artwork. Helping bring his work to life is his niece Linda Va’aelua.

Iosua To’afa. Photo: Provided

Va’aelua who is also an artist, is currently running an exhibition at the Mangere Arts Centre which features To’afa’s work in the original Tala o le Vavau book, alongside other work from Samoan artists here in New Zealand.

The exhibition is called ‘Tusiata o le Tala o le Vavau/Artists of Samoan Myths and Legends’ and was also launched alongside a book about the exhibition.

Va’aelua says that the idea behind the project was not only to honour her uncle’s work, but to also share other Samoan artists’ work inspired by To’afa.

“In our To’afa family, it’s very strong in my generation and now the great grandchildren,” Va’aelua says.

“It’s just one of those things in our family where he was always an influential person to us. He was the first to study art in the family and I was always proud that my uncle was an artist.”

A good number of the community packed out Mangere Arts Centre for the exhibition

The opening of the exhibition saw a good number of the community pack out Mangere Arts Centre, to witness a great display of Pacific artwork. Among those present was artist Serene Hodgman whose early memories of To’afa date back to her childhood days.

Fast forward to now, and Hodgman’swork features alongside To’afa and other artists at the exhibition.

“I first came across his work when I was in Primary school. My grandpa had a copy of his book on his desk alongside lauga books, grammar books and the bible,” Hodgman says.

“I remember opening it and wondering, why are these illustrations not coloured in? To me it was a colouring book. So that’s the early memory I have of his work.”

Artist Siliga David Setoga

Also showcasing his work was artist Siliga David Setoga who draws his connection to To’afa from his days in Samoa.

“As soon as Linda said Tala o le Vavau, it immediately brought back those images,” Setoga says.

“We bought the original book from the Methodist bookshop in Apia and it was dated 1981. I was six years old then so the imagery has been part of my life ever since.”

Also sharing Setoga’s thoughts was photographer/artist Raymond Sagapolutele. He praised To’afa and his work for laying the platform for himself and others.

Photographer/Artist Raymond Sagapolutele (R) praised To’afa and his work

“Iosua is one of these artists, that kind of people know of but there’s not a lot of general knowledge around his work. But for myself as an artist, like I am in my 50’s now, he was a huge influence on us.

“And then to meet Linda and be part of this project, with so many other artists from different stages in their practice, it proves the legacy of what he has done and the power of his work inspired us to be who we are as artists.”

The exhibition runs through until the end of July and it is hoped that it will continue to inspire a new generation of artists.



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