Aua e te fefe – “Don’t be afraid” Art Exhibition

Journalist Mabel Muller recently wrote a piece for Coconet TV about a new art exhibition by a Samoan visual artist who hopes to challenge people’s perception around skulls and what it normally represents in the western culture.

Aua e te fefe – Don’t be afraid by Raymond Sagapolutele is currently on display at Auckland’s Bergman Gallery, showcasing a range of artworks centered around the image of a skull.

The exhibition is a culmination of Sagapolutele’s art and photography work over the last few years and represents his journey of exploring his identity as a Samoan in Aotearoa and how he fits in.

Sagapolutele says the skull, which is usually perceived as a prop to frame horror, can be viewed in a different light when seen through a Samoan lense.


Raymond Sagapolutele the artist behind the Aua E Te Fefe exhibit. Photo: Coconet TV/ Penina Momoiseā

“When I first started doing this I was looking at it from a Samoan perspective in relation to what the bones of our ancestors represent…

“Liutofaga is an old practice where in Samoa, because you have family graves, they would sometimes reuse the plot and so there’ll be a process of re-interring your previous family members. You clean the bones and then oil them, then wrap them in siapo and then store them.

“That idea around bones and how we view them as, not morbid or anything to fear, but as part of who we are,” he said.

A second part of the exhibition uses glass models in the shape of skulls, which Sagapolutele said represented his mental navigation through Covid lockdowns and restrictions.

“Instead of using these medical models that I was painting and photographing, I got these glass models…They became a way of me dealing with a lot of the stress and confusion and anger and trying to deal with being an artist during lockdowns and not having the ability to be with people and share,” he said.

Although Sagapolutele has been a practising artist for nearly 20 years, this showcase was his first solo exhibition with a dealer gallery.

But solo was just a technical term for Sagapolutele, who said his work was always a collective representation of his village.

“Although it’s my solo, it’s not my solo. It’s just a way of acknowledging the journey so far and taking into account that I don’t do this alone.

“I’m very protective of the work because the work is not just about me, it has its gafa (geneology), it’s part of everything I’m connected to so that’s my family, that’s my friends and my community,” he said.

Sagapolutele hoped his exhibition would not only challenge perspectives but create conversations around the themes depicted in his work.

“Not all of our moana arts or our Pacific arts will necessarily have Pacific motifs or siapo patterns or tatau marks…

“It’s skulls and people will see it one way or another. Come and have a look, feel what’s in this space and every part of the work that’s in there has come from my own lived experience,” he said.

“It may not be for everyone but I didn’t make it for everyone.”

Sagapolutele also acknowledged mana whenua, tangata whenua and the land on which he is able to practice his art on.


Artwork from Raymond Sagapolutele’s Aua e te fefe exhibit. Photo: Coconet TV/ Penina Momoiseā

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