Benjamin Work

Ha’a Lātūhifo /  Shetland.
b.1979, Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland.

Benjamin Work’s practice exemplifies the recent progress of Pasifika artists raised in Aotearoa on American sub/pop culture, while also exploring the complexities of contemporary cultural institutions and Pacific diaspora. Drawing on his Tongan heritage, Work has pushed his art in powerful new directions over the last decade. Inspired by the iconography found on cultural treasures such as ‘akau tau (war clubs), his refined, graphic paintings have sought to find new spaces and ways for audiences to engage with Tonga’s visual culture, both inside institutions and on the streets.

Benjamin is a core member of the international street art collective, The Most Dedicated (TMD), and the Tongan street art collective, No’o Fakataha. His initial creative output centered around sub/pop-cultural influences that emerged from North America in the 1970s -1990s. Since then, Benjamin has continued his journey of ancestral discovery and steadily developed his interests and research into aspects of Tongan history and culture.

Benjamin’s practice extends across a diverse range of projects, which include large scale public murals, commercial print based media, paintings, photography and performance. Combining an ongoing investigation into the symbolic use of colour, kula (red) and `uli (black), with a strong interest in Tongan history, Ngatu (bark cloth) making, Kupesi (designs and motifs), and the heliaki (semiotics) of the Povāi (ancient Tongan war clubs), his work forms as a contemporary point which furthers the parallels that can be drawn between established Tongan traditions and practices, and the spiritual and social significance these have for Tongans within the Pacific diaspora.

The bold visual language of his work references historical narratives, iconography, symbolism, and design elements that are particular to Tongan culture, which are also firmly positioned amidst notions connected with Ta and Va (time and space) Tatau (symmetry), Potupotutatau (harmony) and Faka `ofa `ofa (beauty). Benjamin has exhibited in Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, North America, Rarotonga and Tonga where he travels frequently.

SOLO EXHIBITIONS:

  • 2022: To’a Motu, Bergman Gallery, Auckland.
  • 2021: Hake Project – Canterbury Museum, Christchurch.
  • 2018: Write it on the land, seal it on the heart – Te Tuhi Gallery, Auckland.
  • 2017: Whenua Fonua ‘Enua – Malcolm Smith Gallery, Auckland.
  • 2016: For King and Country, Ma’ae Tu’i moe e Fonua, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
  • 2016: The Glorious Children of Te Tumu, Salisbury International Arts Festival, England.
  • 2016: The Glorious Children of Te Tumu, Corban Estate.
  • 2015: For King and Country, Ma’ae Tu’i moe e Fonua, Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku, Auckland.
  • 2015: Toutoutā’, Olivia Laita Gallery, Onehunga, Auckland.
  • 2014: I see red, I see red, I see red, FRESH Gallery, Otara, Auckland.

GROUP SHOWS/PRESENTATIONS:  

  • 2022: Te Atuitanga – Between our Cloak of Stars, Bergman Gallery, Auckland.
  • 2021: The Most Dedicated: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story, The Dowse Art Museum, Wellington, NZ; Life After Death – Franklin Gallery, Auckland.
  • 2020: Tatou 2, The Story of Us, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
  • 2019: Auckland Art Fair Bergman Gallery, Auckland, NZ; Art in the dark II – Me’a’ofa Gallery, Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
  • 2018: MPA#1, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
  • 2017:  Return to Havaiki | UFO Islands, with Andy Leleisiúao, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga; Post Graffiti Pacific – TSB Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland.
  • 2016: New York’s Night Out, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
  • 2016: Katharsis, Calder & Lawson Gallery, August 1 – September 30.
  • 2014:  Post Graffiti Pacific, Ambush Gallery, Sydney, Australia; If these walls could talk, Wallace Trust, Pah Homestead, Auckland; Show room opening, Olivia Laita Gallery, Auckland; Louder, Print Group show, Studio 40, Auckland;
    Tauhi Vā  No’o Fakataha, FRESH Gallery Otara, Auckland; Hold your breath, Whitespace, Auckland.
  • 2013:  Atenisi, No’o Fakataha Collective, Kingdom of Tonga.
  • 2012:  Matala Festival, Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku, Auckland.
  • 2011:  Presence, Artstation, Auckland.
  • 2010: The Miami Dream, Shed5, Auckland.
  • 2009:  Hecho en Mexico, Tijuana, Mexico.

STREET WORK:

  • 2014: Auckland art week, commissioned mural, Fort Street, Auckland CBD. Graffiato, outdoor mural festival, Taupo CBD. I see red mural, public mural, Otara Town Centre, Auckland. All fresco, street art event, Karangahapē Road, Auckland.
  • 2013: From the ground up, public mural event, Christchurch CBD.  TMD x Corbans, outdoor mural, Corbans Estate Art Centre, Auckland. Graffiato, outdoor mural festival, Taupo CBD.  Samoa victim support group, outdoor mural, Apia, Samoa.
  • 2010: Krosswerds festival, outdoor mural, Sydney, Australia; Primary flight, outdoor mural, Art Basel, Miami, USA.

COLLECTIONS:

  • TSB Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland, NZ.
  • Auckland Museum, NZ.
  • Welt Museum, Vienna, Austria.
  • Wrightmann House, Christchurch, NZ.

ARTIST IN RESIDENCE:

  • CMBB Para Site International Art Residency (PS IAR) 2019,  Hong Kong.

URBAN INTERVENTIONS

  • 2021     The Most Dedicated, Street Art Festival, Lower Hutt
  • 2020     Papaioea Mural Festival, Palmerston North
  • 2017     Graffiato Street Art Festival, Taupō
  • 2016     Spanish Harlem mural, MET Outreach programme, NYC, USA; Aotea Squared, Auckland Arts Festival
  • 2015     Alfresco, Cross Street Mural, Auckland
  • 2014     Fort Lane Mural, Auckland Art Week
  • 2012     Bradley Lane Festival, Auckland
  • 2011     Life line Mural , Auckland

PUBLICATIONS

  • Whenua Fonua ‘Enua  2017 Published by RIM Books, ISBN 978-0-473-41566-2


SELECTED COMMISIONS

  • 2021   Motutapu II, Floor to wall mural – Canterbury Museum; Etu Pasifika Health Centre – Christchurch; The new Media Design School – Wynyard Quarter, Auckland City
  • 2016   Tapa collaboration with Fauniteni o e Vai Mo’ui – Manukau Institute of Technology, Auckland
  • 2015   Tu’i Tonga, Tu’i Ha’atakalaua, Tu’i Kanokupolu – 2015 – Auckland Museum


AWARDS

  •  2021 Finalist – Molly Morpeth Canaday Award

ART ASSISTANT

  • 2020  CULTURAL ID – Marae, Maunga, Motu, Toi tū Toi Ora – Emily Karaka

RESEARCH TRIPS

  • 2020   Motutapu, Rarotonga
  • 2019   Motutapu, Tonga
  • 2018   Motutapu, Tāmaki Makaurau
  • 2016   Tongan Oceanic collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • 2015   Tongan Arts publication research,  British Museum; Oxford Musuem; Vienna Welt Musuem; Museo de America – Madrid;  Australian Musuem – Sydney
  • 2013   Tongan Arts collective No’o Fakataha, Tongatapu

CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS

  • 2016   PAA International Symposium, Auckland
  • 2015   Europe Pacific Arts Association Conference, Madrid
  • 2013   Tongan Research Association Conference, Auckland