Benjamin Work – Tautahi.


Benjamin Work, Tautahi. Acrylic on canvas, 2710x2400mm, 2022.

For his new series of works, the artist states, ‘I have shifted my focus from Motutapu to the Northern group of islands called Vava’u [my home islands]. It was the Tautahi [Sea Warlords] from both Vava’u and Ha’apai islands that were renown warriors who fought the mainland for the eventual unification of the Kingdom of Tonga. Through oral traditions and early records we see that Tautahi warriors stood out from the rest, known for elaborate hairstyles, tātatau [tattoo] and painted faces.

Inspired by the 1845 sketch by Belgian artist Auguste Wahlen, of a Tongan warrior heading out to war, I’ve created these works emphasizing the importance of facial recognition and whether they are a friend or foe, with something to hide. Their choice of colors aligned with the Tongan physical, psychological and human attributes of red and black colours, linking nature, mind and society and gendered division of labour.’

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