Benjamin Work: To'a Motu

27 August - 17 September 2022 Bergman Gallery, Auckland

Opening Speakers:

Hūfanga-He-Ako-Moe-Lotu, Professor 'Okusitino Māhina
Benjamin Work, Artist


Throughout history Tongan warriors were the vanguard of many conflicts across Moana Oceania, for centuries warriors were often hired by chiefs of other islands with blood ties to Tonga, for their wars and internal conflicts.


TO'A MOTU - or Island Warrior, sees artist Benjamin Work a descendant of these warriors, drawing on the connectivity between the sacred islands of the Pacific and Aotearoa. His ongoing research is an investigation of historical Pacific motif and its revivification within an urban context. Exploring the iconography found carved into cultural treasures such as 'akau tau (war clubs), his paintings and sculptures have sought to find new spaces and ways for audiences to engage with Tonga's visual culture, both inside institutions and on the streets, debating a sense of place and purpose.


The artist states, 'I felt the shift before I could articulate it, causing me to search for a new language, a language to communicate what I was seeing and feeling; I found this carved into Tongan weaponry - bold, simple masculine metaphors from our ancient martial weapons, which were closely associated with a warrior's accolades and sacred protocols. The iconography strategically placed across its surfaces was both metaphoric and abstract and has intrigued me ever since.'