Benjamin Work
New Paintings & Sculpture

Bergman Gallery @The Den
181 High Street
Christchurch Central

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

For the exhibition TO’A MOTU (Island Warrior), Benjamin Work, a descendant of warrior lineage, draws on the connectivity between the sacred islands of the Pacific and Aotearoa New Zealand. His ongoing research is an investigation of historical Pacific motif and its revivification within a contemporary 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 pre-colonial visual culture inside institutions, galleries and on the street – the artist intrepidly debating a modern 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.’

Benjamin Work is an Auckland-born visual artist with Tongan and Scottish heritage. He is a core member of the Pacific street art collective The Most Dedicated (TMD). Work has a strong foundation in aerosol painting, his initial creative output centered around sub/ pop-cultural influences that emerged from North America in the 1970s – 1980s. Since then, Benjamin’s visual language has referenced design elements and semiotics particular to Tongan weaponry and culture. His practice extends across a diverse range of media including paintings, sculpture, installation, large scale murals, print based media and photography.


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