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  • About the Artist:Fatu Feu‘u
  • Katherine Higgins

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Like Honey, by Fatu Feu‘u, 2011.

Mixed media on canvas, 102 × 101 cm.

Photo courtesy of Warwick Henderson Gallery.

The word “ola” means life and to create life. This painting merges these two concepts of ola—exploring the human capacity to love, hope, and grow in times of adversity. It was made when Feu‘u, the first Creative New Zealand/Macmillan Brown Pacific Artist in Residence (1996), returned to the University of Canterbury in 2011 to complete a second residency. The paintings in the Ola series were produced during the residency as the foundation for a forthcoming publication of poems and series of lithographs. [End Page VI]

Fatu Feu‘u was born in Poutasi Faleali‘i, Sāmoa, and emigrated to Aotearoa/New Zealand in 1966. While working in the textile industry, he taught himself to paint and sculpt, and in 1983 his first solo exhibition was hosted by the Massey Homestead in Mangere, Manukau. His fresh and energetic paintings contemporize motifs derived from customary art forms—frigate birds modeled after siapo (barkcloth) patterns represent connections to the spirit world, and tatau (tattoo) motifs symbolize chiefs and genealogy told through matai pe‘a (chiefly tattoo), like his own. Feu‘u’s paintings are va‘aomanu or vessels of knowledge that emphasize the importance of fa‘a Sāmoa (the Samoan way) and Oceanic customs and history with a modernist edge. His stylized designs—frangipanis and Lapita motifs—were new to New Zealand’s 1980s art scene but have since become iconic of “Pacific art.”

Since becoming a full-time artist in 1988, Feu‘u has earned international prominence, and his paintings, prints, sculptures, and ceramics are held in public and private collections around the world. He was the first artist of Pacific heritage awarded the James Wallace Art Award (1995) and the New Zealand Order of Merit for his achievements in art (2001). Feu‘u has also been an instrumental mentor and advocate for emerging Pacific Islander artists. In 1988 Feu‘u cofounded the Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust to accelerate the development of contemporary Pacific art and artists in New Zealand. He has also been a proponent for the arts in Sāmoa, and, during celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Sāmoa’s independence in 2012, the Fatu Feu‘u Art Centre opened in Poutasi to raise community awareness and appreciation of contemporary art. Feu‘u is represented by Warwick Henderson Gallery in Auckland.

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Photo courtesy of Warwick Henderson Gallery

[End Page VII]

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Nua Nua Poutasi, by Fatu Feu‘u, 2011.

Acrylic on canvas, 88 × 62 cm.

Photo courtesy of Warwick Henderson Gallery.

Nua Nua Poutasi symbolizes hope and a promise of life after the devastation of the 2009 tsunami that destroyed) Feu‘u’s village of Poutasi in Sāmoa. Out of the darkness of any calamity comes the light of day as well as the rainbow, already understood as a sign of hope before the arrival of Christianity. The bird images represent the ancestral spirits who help in the time of rebuilding and rebirth of the village. [End Page 37]

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Talanoa, by Fatu Feu‘u, 2014.

Acrylic on canvas, 102 × 102 cm.

Photo courtesy of Warwick Henderson Gallery.

The structure and foundation of any family is communication and relationships—Feu‘u considers this to include the Pacific environment and everything it encompasses. The kissing fish refer to this communication, working together not just from a family standpoint but uniting to protect our culture and cherished Pacific environment. [End Page 71]

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Matu Atua, by Fatu Feu‘u, 2011.

Art print, edition of 45, 87 × 75 cm.

Photo courtesy of Warwick Henderson Gallery.

These symbols are inspired by Samoan culture, specifically by migration, navigation, and seafaring. The motifs Feu‘u uses often have several different meanings or purposes; depending on its placement, each motif can assist or alter the way a story is told. For example, the red tuna represents...


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pp. VI-318
Launched on MUSE
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