It is a living room modeled on a home in Ōtautahi Christchurch that places Pacific culture centre stage. Curated by artist and Pasifika Librarian in charge of Pacific programming and collections in Tūranga, Nina Oberg Humphries’ assemblage of photographs, films, books, quilts, floor mats and more, make up the immersive installation,Talanoa I Measina - Sharing our Stories, a platform to celebrate Pacific culture and its achievements and presence in Ōtautahi.
The exhibition has its origins in 2018 when the Library’s Pacific Staff network Va Pasifika put forward an exhibition to celebrate Ōtautahi’s Pacific community. Oberg, a member of the collective, wanted to emphasise the importance of archiving Pasifika histories and the group requested photographs from the local Pasifika community for the digital Discovery Wall in Tūranga’s foyer. Oberg put out a call, asking the public to bring their photographs to become part of the discovery wall but she was not really getting any from the Pasifika or multi-cultural communities.
She maintains that the problem was essentially about who uses libraries or see themselves in those spaces, as well as the idea of archiving history, as Pacific cultures have oral traditions. ‘We went and asked people and at first we didn’t get a lot of images. In fact, we only had two people come into the library to give us an image each. Fortunately, for us, we then had lockdown, so people were at home going through their photographs and we went through our own networks to get as many as possible. We really wanted the room to celebrate our people, those that have had a real impact on the community. You can see on the wall their listed achievements; everybody has a Queens Service Medal or some kind of recognition.’
Oberg singles out photographs of those that have ‘moved and shaken things’ in Ōtautahi: Pacific Underground, Ladi6 and Scribe and influential community leaders such as Tufuga Lagatule (1938 – 2016) who spent seventeen years as the Pacific representative on the District Parole Board and held office as an elder of the New Zealand Presbyterian Pacific Island Council. He was made an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit in 2008. And Lemalie Tuia, nee Siataga (1927 – 1996) who arrived in New Zealand from Samoa in 1950, settling in Christchurch in 1955. She was a founding member of St Paul’’s Trinity Pacific Presbyterian Church and a tireless Polynesian social worker and councillor, as well as a community support teacher and ‘fearless leader and advocate for all Polynesian and Pacific people to succeed.’
Oberg describes the recreation of the Pasifika living room in the exhibition as ‘a flamboyant version of real life’, but it is also the reality with the numerous family photographs and leis hanging over the frames. ‘They might put plastic mats or fine mats down to protect the floor and the exhibition is about getting as much in as possible.’
‘Education and any kind of achievement are always celebrated in the Pasifika community. It doesn’t matter how small it is. It might be that you get a certificate from preschool or have a graduation ceremony, any form of achievement is celebrated and people are proud.’
Since Talanoa I Measina opened in November 2020, the interest from churches and youth groups has escalated and the photographs and objects continue to arrive. ‘We have been getting many people almost every week saying, “I want to put my grandparent on the wall.” We want people to come in and add to the stories, and we are still sitting down with them and going through the process to get as many images as possible into our digital heritage repository.’
We were also given a number of home videos, which are really cool because they range from White Sunday (a national holiday in Samoa) to performances and fundraisers. We also have beautiful ones given to us by Tamapua Pera, a Cook Islander, where she runs a Tivaevae workshop and talks about its history, how to make all its different segments. That is not something you can get from a book. We see these as special and very important resources and we hope to make them more accessible. It is information that wasn’t here - but also isn’t [until now] found anywhere.’
Talanoa I Measina is also an idea about how an exhibition can make important community connections with visitors. Oberg asks; ‘What would it look like if it was a Filipino kitchen and there was a dining table? The exhibition is a good model for engaging with different communities and then celebrating and giving them a public place, reinforcing belonging in our city’
Talanoa I Measina’s themes and subjects encompasses Christianity, rugby league, tourist memorabilia and quilt making. ‘We asked people for religious items, paintings and prayers and books. Religion and Christianity is very important to Pacific peoples. Church is life, so we have got our “Last Supper” as well and we have a Bible.’
The religious statues are in close proximity to an album cover of Elvis Presley. ‘Pacific people have a real affinity for country music and storytelling. So naturally, Elvis is popular. I have a group of fifteen Samoan Matua that come in every week. They made all the leis in the exhibition located above the family photographs and they all had stories to tell about their love for Elvis.’
A tourist souvenir depicting a traditional home in Samoa is also on display, loaned by Oberg and much loved. ‘You find a lot of things in Pasifika homes that are tourist items and it reminds them of home. You belong to this other place but you don’t necessarily need to be there.’
‘The cushions in the exhibitions are made in China but are based on Cook Islands Tivaevae. In Samoa you weave mats but we don’t have the materials here [in Aotearoa]. The mats from China serve that purpose. They are bright, colourful, and relatively inexpensive. Less people in the Islands learn how to weave mats these days, it is time consuming and people just don’t have as much time.’
Talanoa I Measina extends its invitation to all visitors. ‘People come in here and they may just sit and read and they have also been having meetings in here. We had a consultation a few years ago with our Pacific community and asked how do you want to interact with the library and what would you like to see?’
Oberg is adamant that all communities want to see themselves represented in public spaces. ‘We have a place here and we have a community and our numbers are only growing. In the last five years we have gone from 11,000 Pacific people to nearly 20,000 in Ōtautahi. So what does the next five years look like? No matter what migrant community you come from, we have all moved to Aotearoa in the hopes of better lives, education for our families and opportunities for employment. This is a reality in Christchurch and as our Pacific population grows, so do our multicultural communities. Our public places and our civic spaces need to reflect that.’
Talanoa I Measina – Sharing our Stories, Te Pito Huarewa / Southbase Gallery, Tūranga, 60 Cathedral Square, 12 November 2020 to 28 February 2021.
- Talanoa I Measina – Sharing our Stories, installation photograph. Photograph: Nina Oberg Humphries
- Talanoa I Measina – Sharing our Stories, installation photograph, includes Jan-hai Te Ratana’s Women’s Rugby World Cup 2006 jersey and a painting of rugby player Tala Kele, from former Warners Hotel in Cathedral Square, titled The Tala Kele Corner. Photograph: Nina Oberg Humphries