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Johnny Penisula awarded CI Artists' Residency

Media release
Date: 7 July 2005

Sculptor Johnny Penisula awarded
Cook Islands Artists' Residency

"This will help me as an artist but it means I can help others too."

Sculptor Johnny Penisula will visit the Cook Islands for the first time as the recipient of the 2005 Cook Islands Artists' Residency, awarded annually by the Pacific Arts Committee of Creative New Zealand.

Samoan-born Penisula will take up the three-month residency from 5 August in the latest phase of a career that has spanned more than 50 years. Penisula, who came to New Zealand as a 21-year-old in 1962 and settled in Invercargill, held his first exhibition ten years later.

In fact, Penisula's first foray into art was at the age of 13 when he painted a mural on a church in Samoa. He kept painting while he worked as an engineer in Invercargill but soon carving and sculpture - particularly the use of stone - captured his attention. It's with this material that Penisula plans to create new work during his time in the Cook Islands.

His appreciation of rock is something he wants to pass on to local artists. "It's a medium that most Polynesian artists tend to ignore and use wood instead because it's easy to get at with a chainsaw. But now we have modern rock-cutting tools and so getting at the rock is easy. I want to teach them about these tools and how to use them safely."

Penisula has won numerous art awards and grants, including the Senior Pacific Islands Artist Award in 2002. This award was presented by the Pacific Arts Committee as part of its annual Arts Pasifika Awards.

A part-time tutor at the Southland Institute of Technology for the past 15 years, he's looking forward to his time in the Cook Islands, exchanging ideas and working with local artists. "With this residency, the prize is the work. This will help me as an artist but it means I can help others too."

Marilyn Kohlhase, Chair of the Pacific Arts Committee, says Penisula is a highly regarded senior artist, also known for his generosity in mentoring emerging artists. "His artworks are in museums and public places in New Zealand and around the world. Both in terms of his art practice and his experience as a teacher, he is an ideal artist to undertake this residency."

Penisula says his new work will incorporate traditional and contemporary Pacific motifs, and reflect Pacific peoples' love of seafaring. "I want to make something that will represent our voyage into the future while also acknowledging where we've come from."

As yet, he's unsure of the form that his creation will take. "If I have the use of a crane in the Cook Islands, it will be a big work. If not, it will be whatever rock can be lifted. Maybe it will be two smaller ones joined together. There's no use doing half-a-dozen designs only to get to the Cook Islands and realise that I can't find the rocks I need. It won't take me long to design it once I get there. All I know is that it will be rock."

Rock's durability is central to Penisula's theme and long-term vision. His project is called Voyage to the Next Millennium: Le Folauga Mo Le Afe Tausaga because he wants to create works that will last for the next one thousand years.

"About twenty or thirty years back, I was thinking about the next millennium and thinking about the art that had survived from the beginning of the previous millennium. Very little has survived and I thought: 'Will someone in the future feel like I feel now? Where is the art? What art did they do all those years ago?' The one thing that will still be here is rock. Rocks own the planet. They were here before us and they'll be here after we go."

The Pacific Arts Committee established the Cook Islands Artists' Residency in 2001 to support the career development of Pacific artists, strengthen ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands, and support the artist community in the Cook Islands.

The residency is open to visual artists of Pacific Islands heritage living, working and exhibiting in New Zealand. The Pacific Arts Committee administers the residency, covers the costs of the airfares and materials, and provides a $3000 a month stipend. The Cook Islands Ministry of Cultural Development and the Cook Islands National Visual Arts Society provide studio space and other support while the artist is in the Cook Islands.


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