Fatu Feu’u (born 1946) is a Pacific artist of Samoan origin. Emigrating to New Zealand in 1966, Feu’u has built a well-recognized career as a painter, printmaker and sculptor and is regarded as the godfather of Pacific Contemporary art.
Fatu Feu’u’s practice fuses traditional Pacific and Samoan imagery with European modernism. His regular use of the frangipani flower motif is a trademark and a powerful metaphor for Feu’u’s unification of two visual cultures. Stylistically he is influenced by New Zealand artists Tony Fomison, Phillip Clairmont, Alan Maddox and Colin McCahon of whom he had early associations. Samoan patterns, design, legend, traditional language and biblical text also serve as familiar motif within this artists large body of work.
For decades, Feu’u worked in a relatively insular New Zealand art world in which modern Pacific art was in its infancy . In the late 1980’s Fe’u u and friends established TAUTAI – an organisation dedicated to the recognition and development of Pacific contemporary art in New Zealand. Feu’u’s work was subsequently included in two groundbreaking exhibitions of Pacific contemporary art, Te Moemoea no Iotefa curated by Rangihiroa Panaho (1990) and Bottled Ocean curated by Jim Viviaeare, which toured New Zealand in 1994-1995.
Over the course of his career, Feu’u has gained regional institutional recognition, his work can be found in Te Papa Tongarewa, The Museum of New Zealand, Wellington; The Auckland Art Gallery – Toi O Tamaki, Auckland and the National Gallery, Brisbane, Australia.
Fatu Feu’u lives and works in New Zealand.
(From The Guide, 2001) Fatu Feu’u was born in the village of Poutasi Falealili on the island of Upolu in Samoa. Educated at Apia’s Samoa College, he emigrated to New Zealand in 1966 in order to study art. He was soon encouraged by local artists to continue with his painting, and he has held regular exhibitions since 1983, both nationally and internationally.
His significance as a mentor for other Pacific artists has been widespread, as much through his sense of vocation as by the example of his art. In paintings, prints, and sculpture, Feu’u has transformed traditional design motifs into fresh meanings: tatau, siapo, ufimata, lalaga and gogo – tattoo, barkcloth, masks, weaving and the frigate bird – have together with lapita pottery all contributed to his visual presentation of Samoan legends and fa’a Samoa or Samoan culture.
In Tapa’au (woven coconut mat) the white fuga or blossom of the scented frangipani and the sight and sound of the frigate bird are symbols of birth and life that Samoans understand as being inseparable from their culture. By showing his art to people living outside of Samoa, Fatu Feu’u has revivified the connections between Samoan contemporary life and historical events and reinforced that are each is an ingredient of a transplanted heritage: ‘I’ve taken the traditional art form and brought it into the contemporary, to today, and somebody else can take it to tomorrow. It’s a way of keeping our art alive.’
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