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Collection highlights

Tu'i Tonga, Tu'i Ha'atakalaua, Tu'i Kanokupolu

As part of the Pacific Collection Access Project, Auckland Museum and artist Benjamin Work co-curated a display. The display text was in both English and Tongan. The text was translated by Hūfanga Dr ‘Ōkusitino Māhina.

Left to right: Benjamin Work and Andy Leleisi‘uao. Benjamin selecting pōvai (clubs) to be displayed with his three works.

Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

The display

‘Oku ‘oatu heni ‘a e ngāue ‘e tolu kuo tānaki mai ki he ngaahi koloa ‘o e Pasifiki fakataha mo e pōvai ‘e tolu, ‘a ia na‘e fili mo fokotu‘utu‘u ‘e Benjamin. 

Here are three works recently added to our Pacific collections alongside three pōvai (Tongan clubs) selected and arranged by Benjamin.

Benjamin Work finalising his selection of pōvai (clubs) and confirming the layout for display.

Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Commentary

‘Oku pehē ‘e Benjamin:

"‘Oku tala ‘e he ngaahi ‘ata ‘a e to‘a ‘o e ngaahi tu‘i he ngaahi ha‘a tu‘i lalahi ‘e tolu ‘o Tonga: Tu‘i Tonga, Tu‘i Ha‘atakalaua mo e Tu‘i Kanokupolu. ‘Oku huluhulu ‘a e ngāue ni ‘e he ngaahi kupesi mo e ‘ata mohu he ngaahi pōvai ‘a e ngaahi lavame‘a mo e tu‘unga ‘o e kau to‘a na‘a nau ngaohi (ma‘u) mo ngāue‘aki. ‘Oku ‘uhinga leva ai hono tāvalivali kinautolu he papa (‘akau) ka e ‘ikai ko e lau‘ilā (tupenu). Na‘e hanga foki ‘e he pōvai (ko e me‘atau pē ‘akautā) ‘o fakafuo-mo-fakauho ‘a e tā mo e vā mo fa‘u ‘a e talaēfonua mo fatu hono hu‘unga."

Benjamin explains:

"These portraits depict the bravery of rulers from the three royal lines that made up the Kingdom of Tonga: Tu’i Tonga, Tu’i Ha’atakalaua and Tu’i Kanokupolu. These works are in response to motifs and accolades found on some pōvai that narrate heroic acts and social position, both in battle and in the daily life of the owners who wielded them. It made sense to paint on wood rather than canvas as a connection to its origin. Pōvai were weapons that truly shaped time and space, capturing histories and confirming destinies."

Tu‘i Tonga, Tu‘i Ha‘atakalua, Tu‘i Kanokupolu, Onehunga, Auckland, New Zealand, Purchased. Benjamin Work. 2015. Acrylic and graphite on stained wood.

Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 56762.

"Kuo hoko ‘a e lea Tonga heliaki (poloveape pē fakatātā) ko e ‘‘Oku tau ‘alu ki mu‘a ki he kuohili pea tau ‘alu ki mui ki he kaha‘u’ ko e makatu‘unga ‘eku ngaahi ngāue faka‘aati. ‘Oku tokoni lahi ‘etau talatukufakaholo mohu mo hono ngaahi akonaki fonu he‘etau ‘ave kinautolu ki he kaha‘u. ‘Oku ‘i ai ‘a e konga lahi ‘etau talatukufakaholo ‘oku tefito he ngaahi me‘a matelie ‘oku tauhi he ngaahi misiume ‘i he kolope (mamani). ‘Oku kau he tohi ko e “Ngaahi ‘Aati ‘o Tonga” ‘a Keith St Cartmail kuo pekia ‘a e ngaahi ‘ata faka‘ofo‘ofa atu ‘o e ngaahi pōvai he ngaahi misiume, ‘o hangē ko e fika AM34710 ‘oku faka‘ali‘ali heni, ‘a ia ‘oku tātongitongi mo fonofono‘aki ‘a e ngaahi kupesi ‘oku fakaofo fau kiate au. Na‘e ‘ikai ke fu‘u mahino ‘eni kiate au hili ha ngaahi ta‘u lahi ‘eku toki ako mei ha kau matu‘otu‘a mo e kau ‘akatēmika. ‘Oku hoko ‘eku to e huke ‘a e ngaahi kupesi ma‘ae to‘utangata fo‘ou ko hoku manako, pea ko e misiume ko e feitu‘u totonu (tuha mo taau) ia ke kamata ai."
- Benjamin Work, 2015

"The Tongan proverb ‘We walk forward into the past and backward into the future’ has been foundational in my arts practice. I am inspired by our rich history and its lessons which we carry into our future. Much of Tonga's material based history is housed in museums across the globe. ‘The Art of Tonga’ published in 1997 by the late Keith St Cartmail included many fine examples of pōvai in museums, such as AM34710 displayed here, with finely carved kupesi (motifs) and inlays which intrigued me. It was not until years later I was able to learn more about them through elders and academics. Re-introducing these motifs to a new generation is a passion of mine, and the museum is a perfect place to start." 
- Benjamin Work, 2015

Pōvai (Club) [detail]. Tonga. Gifted. Mrs Morris Wilkinson. 1956.

Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 34710.

About Benjamin Work

‘Oku ‘i ai ‘a e konga ‘o e ‘ātisi ko Benjamin Work ‘oku ngāue ‘i Saute ‘Aokalani ki Tonga mo Nu‘usila (Sikotilani). ‘Oku ‘asi lahi ‘a e tefito ‘ene ngāue‘aki ‘ae kapavali tāvalivali mo e tāvalivali holisi (kalāfiti) he‘ene ngāue. Na‘e kamata ke liliu māmālie ‘ene ‘aati he‘ene fekumi mālohi ki he loloto ‘a e ngaahi ‘ilo moe poto tupu‘a ‘a Tonga.

Benjamin Work is a South Auckland-based artist of Tongan and New Zealand (Scottish) heritage. He has a strong foundation in aerosol painting and graffiti. In the past few years his artistic practice has evolved through a deeper engagement and research into his Tongan cultural heritage.

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