Creative NZ Pacific Artist Awards 2018
By Mario Gaoa
Don’t feel bad if you haven’t been or heard of these awards, it doesn’t make you an art snob nor does it suggest that you are out of touch with your creative islandness. Everyone has awards, academy awards, Bafta awards, Grammy awards, NZ plumming awards and the list goes on.
The Creative NZ Pacific artist awards are held every year and hosted by Creative New Zealand and recognise the contributions to art by some of our most talented and respected Pacific artists, of which there are many. Going down the list of previous recipients of these awards is eye-watering stuff. Albert Wendt, Nathaniel Lees, Jonny Penisula, Lemi Ponifasio, Annie Crummer, Jim Vivieaere ... it’s like an All Blacks team of Pacific Artists, so it is little wonder that these awards are a big deal to our budding arts industry.
This years awards are being held in Parliament. A structurally sound but very ugly building ..... or so I thought. Chuck in a DJ booth and some fairy lights and a drag queen show, suddenly it’s transformed into an Rarotongan-esque island disco. I half expected Winston Peters to hula dance out onto stage, alas I had to settle for Trevor Mallard donning a dress and wig (he was not the drag show...but very close). Flowery dresses and big hair, sparkly eyes, pouted cheeks, ie faitaga and jandals, it felt like I was in a flash wedding at the Manhatten Night Club in Mt Roskill .... very comforting.
A quick walk around the room, brought back memories from people and groups I had worked with/for some 20yrs ago. Erolia Ifopo and Michelle Muagututia from Pacific Underground, a group formed in Christchurch that pioneered some of the scripted comedy we know in island theatre today. Lemi Ponifasio, choreographer and director of Mau dance company. Ete Etuate Ete, one half of the laughing samoans, actor and talented musician, who played guitar for drinking actors at the post workshop “debrief” many moons ago. Ta’i Patai and Makerita Urale, a choreographer and producer who bread crumbed our industry into y2k (year 2 thousand). The list and the faces go on.... all here to celebrate the achievements of their fellow artists.
So I was proud as punch when the award for emerging pacific artist went to Leki Jackson Burke – a young writer, actor and all-round funny guy. He made his acceptance speech in three island languages, all of whom hold an equal love in his heart “It’s important for us as artists to acknowledge who came before us and who will come after us so we understand our place in the great circle of life” I had the privilege of working with him on one of his early scripts, his talent for words was as sharp then as it was in his acceptance speech. The man could probably write me under the table now.
The special recognition award went to Iosefa Enari, founder of Pacific dance New Zealand. The official byline for this award is "to recognise the special contribution to the standing and standard of Pacific arts in Aotearoa" unofficially it should read “others prosper because of this persons commitment”
Iosefa was a prominent figure in my years as a young actor, in fact, he held "older brother" status amongst the very small wave of island theatre practitioners in the early nineties. In that tickle of a wave was the likes of Vela Manusaute (Killer Kokonut Krew) Shimpal Lelisi and David Fane (Naked Samoans). His hair may have greyed over the years, but his passion for his work continues and it won't be long till we see his name in the Senior Artist category.
Senior Pacific Artist award went to Rosanna Raymond of Pacific Sister's infamy. Now an art curator who has worked in some of the most prestigious museums across the world (I know this because Google told me) she is probably one of the coolest recipients of this award. She shimmied her way down the aisle to collect her award, which I hope would cover the cost of her designer boots (only small feet need apply). The poem during her acceptance speech was a touching gesture and a nod to the likes of Oscar Kightley who taken by the words, recited passages of it far into the night.
The Pacific Arts Awards have come along way since I attended last, in fact, the Iast one I went to Iosefa Enari Memorial award, didn't exist....because that good man was still with us.
This year very handsome opera singer Benson Wilson took the honours, begging the question why are Samoans so good at opera? The last 5 winners of the Lexus Opera awards have come from Hamoland.
It's a bigger celebration and deservedly so. I offer my congratulations to Sulieti Fieme'a Burrows, Tui Emma Gillies, winners of the Pacific art heritage award. I didn't get to meet you on the night but saw you having a boogie on the dance floor, you both looked wonderful. These guys have re-invigorated the art of Ngatu making for young Pacificans and are doing awesome workshops around this age old taonga.
Angela Tiatia recipient of the contemporary Pacific art award, I worked with Angela on a movie called Rapa Nui, I don't usually talk about that film because it sucked…but it was awesome to meet other island actors. Ang was one of them. Special then, and when she was accepting her award with her Mother on stage last night, her degrees of specialness went up a couple of notches. Angela has been smashing it on the Oz art circuit in recent years with her video installation work, and making waves in a country not known for its indigenous inclusivity means an extra malo lava to her.
Shouts need to go to Hon. Carmel Sepuloni for getting the beehive so the Islanders could go and take selfies, and also to Makerita and her CNZ team for putting on what I would say was an awesome awards night.