Men are from Maama, Women are from Pulotu
1 April – 28 May 2016
Mangere Arts Centre Nga Tohu o Uenuku
Men Are from Maama, Women are from Pulotu borrows its title from an article written by Meredith Filiha’a which looks at female status in Tongan society. Filihia’s research draws on Tongan cosmogonic origins to suggest that Tongan men and women descend from two different places: women from Pulotu, a place believed to be a source of life and death and chiefly things, and men from Maama (this world). In this exhibition, Filihia’s gendered positioning is used as an analogy for Ane Tonga’s photographic investigation of nifo koula (gold teeth).
Since 2008, Ane has been researching nifo koula – a form of Tongan body adornment where gold is melted onto the visible surface of teeth. For many recipients the procedure is carried out in the Kingdom of Tonga, using gold sourced from heirlooms such as wedding rings, which infuses gold teeth with layers of meaning and memory. This exhibition brings together two gendered bodies of work; Grills (2008-2014) which is centred on the experiences of women and the new series Fakaētangata (2014-2016) which delves into the experiences of men.
Grills (2008-2014) explores nifo koula as female symbols of faka’ofo’ofa (Tongan beauty). Each image in this series explores, and challenges, traditional notions of Tongan beauty. For example the works visually examine sino molu (soft supple body), ngingila (shininess) and tapu (sanctity of hair and head) as well as more vernacular notions of beauty such as hinehina (a preference for fair skin) and sino lelei (an idealized full figured body). The exhibition includes the moving image work Malimali that explores nifo koula through the eyes and voices of Tongan women living in Aotearoa.
Showing for the first time in Aotearoa is the new ‘brother’ series Fakaētangata (2014-2016), which explores nifo koula within the notions of mana and fakaētangata (masculinity). The photographic series follows the journey of a young man acquiring a nifo koula in the Kingdom of Tonga, likening his surgical process to a rite of passage. Accompanying the photographs is a moving image work Tohoaki’i (to catch your attention) that captures men from Tonga discussing their views and outlook of nifo koula as a process of exchange, necessity and teuteu (decoration).
Ane Tonga, 2016