Raymond Sagapolutele Aua e te fefe / Don’t be afraid
September 24 – October 22, 2022 Auckland
Opening Saturday September 24, all welcome.
Fatu Feu’u, Artist, Patron/Founder – Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust
Raymond Sagapolutele, Exhibiting Artist
Ben Bergman, Gallery Director
“Any concept of time that poses the past, present, and future as separate moments is incompatible with Samoan thinking. The ancestors do not recede into a lost time: in fact, they are continually available.” – Albert Refiti.
‘I often forget when presenting these works that the first thing people tend to do is inhale sharply when they see the skulls.
Skulls can be a reminder of the things that we have lost and portents of the end that is to come. So seeing uncomfortable reactions is understandable, but this aspect is only part of the power I see in them as a symbolic presence in my work.
When I was a lot younger I was struck by an image in a book of a person using a skull as a pillow. The use of the skull in such a utilitarian way stayed with me and the question of seeing these as something more than props to frame horror; I would seek to answer in later years through my art practice.
My time researching as a visual arts post-grad student afforded me the space and time to consider my position and place as a Samoan born in Aotearoa when framed around structures of identity. Having the time to critically assess what it meant to grow up as part of a Pacific diaspora included decoding the subtle ways I had learned cultural contexts through lived ways of being. This could include participating in family functions where fa’a Samoa, or the Samoan way, is applied. It could also be something as simple as a story passed on from grandmother to grandson.
It was the echo of a story from my grandmother that connected my past to my present-day research and the practice of reinterring the dead, liutofaga that would see me once again re-examine the way we see skulls, or more accurately how we see the bones of our ancestors. In my practice, the skulls are a key element in seeing beyond the dead, being about more than death.
In my artwork, these skulls, or ancestor motifs, have developed in two ways.
Firstly, I present them as timeless, and they hold space for our ancestors to be part of a contemporary conversation that sets the groundwork for what is a possible future. In their second form, they became fragile placeholders of my psyche during a lockdown that tested my resilience and ability to maintain a sense of creativity unencumbered by uncertainty.
In both instances they are not reminders of our mortality, they are not memento mori. These are not the embodiment of journeys ended but are reminders of lessons around lives lived. They are nothing to fear.
In the words of our grandmother, aua e te fefe, don’t be afraid.’ Raymond Sagapolutele