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Tongan architecture postgrad wins Residency award

Media release
16 July 2009

Tongan architecture postgraduate wins Commonwealth Arts Residency award

A Tongan Master of Architecture student at The University of Auckland has been awarded a place in the coveted Commonwealth Connections International Arts Residencies programme.

The programme aims to support an environment that fosters creativity and individual cultural expression, increase mutual understanding between peoples through artistic exchange and give emerging artists opportunities to learn new skills that will help them develop their livelihoods as artists.

Semisi Fetokai Potauiane, who graduated with a Bachelor of Architectural Studies in 2007, is drawing on his exposure to Western-Pacific art traditions to research Polynesian (Moana) architecture. His MArch thesis, “Tectonic of the Fale: Four-dimensional, Three-divisional” examines the Tongan conception of the Fale in all aspects, from philosophy to construction and sustainability.

Semisi completed his primary and secondary schooling in Tonga and in the early 1990s won a scholarship to pursue his studies in New Zealand. Semisi grew up in a rich cultural milieu, where he had early exposure through his parents and village elders to performance, material and fine arts as well as canoe-building, tool-making, mat-weaving and bark-cloth-making.

While still in Tonga Semisi began to teach himself several arts, notably music, drawing, weaving and tattooing. While formally engaging in architectural studies in New Zealand, Semisi continues to refine his painting (tāvalivali), weaving (fīkafa), tattooing (tātatau) and digital graphic (tākupesi) arts.

During his residency, Semisi will develop an installation that will connect all these material arts through form, content and function. The exhibition is scheduled to be held at the Cambridge University Museum, in conjunction with Trinity College. The College is the administrator of the Arthington-Davy Fund which awarded him a postgraduate scholarship for his current studies at The University of Auckland.

“It’s a great honour for me to be selected for this award, as it is for my elders, friends, colleagues and teachers. The award is a huge recognition of my work, largely informed by refined traditional Tongan artistic and literary concepts and practices,” says Semisi.

Semisi also plans to strengthen his existing connections with Cambridge University Museum and Trinity College. He will investigate the museum’s Pacific collections with a focus on design-related objects such as those found in bark-cloths. He also hopes to develop further affiliations with scholars, artists and art and literary critics both in the United Kingdom and in New Zealand.

“This prestigious award is an indication of Semisi’s tremendous artistic abilities in a number of media, including architecture, design and fine arts. The residency will enable him to engage with a wider group of artists, curators and academics who are attempting to define what indigenous art is in a global context, and thus inform the continuing development of his work,” says Deidre Brown, one of Semisi’s postgraduate supervisors and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture and Planning.

The University of Auckland’s National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries comprises the School of Architecture and Planning, Elam School of Fine Arts, the Centre for New Zealand Art Research and Discovery (CNZARD), the School of Music and the Dance Studies Programme.


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