Recently Radio New Zealand ran an article written by Sale Jane Hopgood about how a Samoan artist in her eighties hopes to encourage more Pasifika to explore their creative talents.
Pusi Urale, 81, celebrated the female form in her exhibition Mafine which was held at Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery in West Auckland last month.
For her solo exhibition, Urale has dabbled in acrylic paintings on canvas exploring abstract painting and pointillism, a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image.
Urale, who is based in Auckland, said her inspiration for the exhibition stemmed from her daughter Sima’s documentary work about velvet painting. “I saw that the people like Gauguin and other Europeans went to the Pacific Islands and painted the female form on velvet, so that gave me the idea to do something like that with the female form on canvas,” she said. “I paint the woman naked, the woman with a baby, a pregnant woman, all kinds of forms.”
Urale has been blind on the right eye for 30 years and her left eye is not as strong as it used to be. She said her eyesight had not stopped her from painting but she had had to improvise ways to be able to work. “I bought myself a table easel to see if that would help with my work, but it doesn’t, so I have tried using equipment to help me see my work better. The best way for me is to put my canvas on the dining table and get very close to it. If it is a big canvas, I move around the dining table.”
Urale has been a practicing artist since her husband died in 2014. One of her daughters, Natasha Urale-Baker, said the new chapter in her mother’s life had been positive and added value to the Pacific art circle. “She is seen as a kaumātua, an elder to the young Pacific artists across New Zealand. She’s like a mentor to them all as well as their nana who asks about their work, how their family are doing, what’s new in their children’s life and so forth.”
Te Uru Contemporary Gallery director, Andrew Clifford, said the response from the public had been enthusiastic. “People have just really responded to the vibrancy of it, but also the amazing story and just the idea, which I think a lot of people hope for, aspirations that we can be just as lively and vibrant as Pusi is at that age. It’s quite inspiring for people to see an exhibition of work from an artist in her eighties and going strong.”
Mr Clifford said Urale had always spoken about the need for opportunities for older people – especially Pasifika – to delve into art. The West Auckland gallery is hosting workshops led by Urale to encourage more participation in the arts. “She has spoken very interestingly about opportunities for older artists and for them to spend time together and do workshop and classes and how many opportunities is or isn’t is targeted to that demographic.”
Pusi Urale was a finalist in the Wallace Art Awards in 2017 and 2018 and sold most of her paintings in her previous solo exhibition on the first day.