TUI EMMA GILLIES, Democracy, 2014, tapa cloth, India ink, tongo, acrylic and colored pencil, 70 × 80 cm. Courtesy Fresh Gallery Otara, Auckland. 


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The only Pacific nation never to have been colonized, Tonga transitioned to a constitutional monarchy in 2010. The Ministry of Education, Women’s Affairs and Culture organizes public cultural programs, including the annual national-heritage festival Heilala (6/30–7/12). Because the government invests in the tourist trade, Tonga has a well-developed system of cultural institutions centered in the capital Nuku’alofa, but none exhibit contemporary art. Instead, the Langafonua Women’s Handicraft Association and Gallery supports Tongan craftswomen, and its Royal Art Gallery division showcases historical royal items donated by Princess Pilolevu and Princess Nanasipau’u Tuku’aho. 

Overseas, particularly in New Zealand, several Tongans have risen to prominence. The iconic sculptural
works of Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi—a multidisciplinary artist who mimics decorative rope lashings known as lalava used in the construction of canoes, houses and tools—are widely recognized. In 2014, Māngere Arts Centre, outside Auckland, mounted a sweeping solo exhibition of Tohi’s work, “Tukutuku Kafa Mei Lotomoana: Survey Part Two” (9/6–11/2) including the centerpiece Aotea (White Cloud) (2012), a large-scale aluminum sculpture inspired by wave patterns, fishing nets and Pacific archipelagos.  

Elsewhere in New Zealand, Auckland’s Fresh Gallery Otara presented Tongan artists collective No’o Fakataha in “Tauhi Vā” (8/29–10/4). Also at Fresh Gallery Otara, Tongan choreographer Amanaki Prescott-Faletau was included in the group show “Poly Typical” (11/14–1/10/15). In Wellington, Pataka Art + Museum presented “Tonga ’i Onopooni: Tonga Contemporary” (4/12–8/24), a survey of works by 13 New Zealand-based Tongan artists. Guest-curated by Nina Kinahoi Tonga, the show included sculpture, painting, photography, video and installation by such leading practitioners as Tohi, Stone Kulimoe’anga Maka and Dagmar Dyck. In November, Dyck, a printmaker and painter, was awarded Creative New Zealand’s Arts Pasifika Contemporary Artist Award.

In Melbourne, the second Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival (3/21–22)—a joint initiative of the Big Island Collective and Footscray Community Arts Center—celebrated creative practices among the Pacific diaspora in Australia, including a symposium with Tongan-descended performance artist Latai Taumoepeau.