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Visesio Siasau: ‘Uli ‘i he ‘Uli

July 11 - September 10

Visesio Siasau, ‘Uli ‘i he ‘uli (2016), oil on canvas


In 2015 Visesio Siasau won the Wallace Arts Trust Paramount Award at the 24th Wallace Art Awards; a six-month residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York. His award winning work is a 60 foot long ngatu (titled Tongan Tapa Cloth), which was created in Tonga, presenting both Christian and pre-Christian iconography in numerous small paintings laid out on barkcloth. Sio took the ngatu with him to New York in 2016 during his stay at ISCP and it was displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an evening event.

Sio developed a new series of paintings during the residency and on his return to New Zealand; three of which are on display in this exhibition. These paintings on canvas, each titled ‘Uli ‘i he ‘Uli (Black on Black) and numbered in Tongan from one to eight (Taha to Valu), are black with hard edge geometric shapes.  The black forms in these works present an exploration of pre-Christian Tongan principles such as the notion of  ‘Uli ‘uli va, the void being a conception of the universe.  These shapes painted with varying luminosities of black paint appear or disappear when viewed with different viewpoints.  The paintings also show influences of twentieth century American art  (notably Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko) as experienced by Sio during his time in New York.

“Visesio Poasi Siasau…comes from a hereditary guild of Tongan tufunga or tohunga. He self-identifies as a tufunga‘i practitioner and draws on Tongan epistemologies as his pathway to understanding things passed down by traditional knowledge keepers. Indeed, his efficacy as an indigenous practitioner is worldly in a contemporary sense within knowing in a traditional sense”

– Ngahiraka Mason, Manulani Aluli Meyer
The Contemporary Pacific, Volume 26, Number 1, 2014


July 11
September 10
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