Interwoven Tuvaluan identity

posted: 4:00 pm - 4th October 2018
Lakiloko Keakea with one of her works at the Fafetu exhibition. CREDIT David St George.

(Picture caption: Tuvalu artist Lakiloko Keakea with one of her works at the Fafetu exhibition. CREDIT David St George.) 

With her granddaughter Patricia Filipi translating her Tuvaluan into English, artist Lakiloko Keakea explains it is her country of birth which inspires her carefully crafted Fafetu, currently on exhibit at Ponsonby’s Objectspace.

“Tuvalu is my inspiration,” Lakiloko says. 

“I am inspired by all the colours shown through the food, traditional attire of Tuvalu and the land - I want people to be reminded of our beautiful island when they see my artwork,” she says. 

Lakiloko has lived in Aotearoa for the past 21 years but she says Tuvalu will always be home at heart. 

Born on Nui Island, Tuvalu, in 1949, Lakiloko moved with her family to Niutao Island in 1957.

It was here where Lakiloko learned the art of crochet or kolose, at the age of 12.

“I was mainly taught by my mother, however it was also taught at school,” she says.

As she got older, Lakiloko became more intrigued with art, and in the 1970s, she joined a women’s art group called Fakapotopotoga Fafine Tuvalu, which included women from all the atolls in Tuvalu, each sharing knowledge of the art practices distinct to their island.

That same decade, several women from the collective travelled together to the Marshall Islands, returning with the star-shaped design used in fafetu.

Practice and determination has seen Lakiloko become an artist of mea taulima; things created with hands, and to perfect the art of making fafetu.

 She says everything is possible if you put your mind and heart into it. 

In 1996, Lakiloko moved to New Zealand – her art-making practice is now based at her home in Ranui, Auckland. 

With Tuvalu etched on her heart and soul, Lakiloko has never lost the old ways of her homeland, or her mother tongue. 

She says it is very important to continue using and teaching the Tuvalu language to our children and grandchildren, to keep the culture alive.

 “Our language is our identity. 

"We can easily be mistaken as Samoans, Tongans, Cook Islanders and so on because of our outer appearance, however it is the beauty of our language which separates us as Tuvaluans from other Pacific nations.” 

Lakiloko maintains her connection to Tuvalu in New Zealand by attending church and church groups, as well as being a key member of Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa – the Tuvalu Women’s arts collective. 

On September 29, Lakiloko’s first major solo exhibition of her work – Fafetu -  opened at Objectspace.    

Fafetu features pieces produced within the last two years, building on a practice of over five decades. 

Her fafetu embody the Tuvalu approach to living; infused with repeating actions, popping colours and an undeniable vibrancy, while her work holds the same bright spirit of celebration seen in kolose and fatele (Tuvalu dancing accompanied by song), with all rhythms leading back towards a place of culture. 

Her wild palette demonstrates the Tuvalu delight in vibrant colour – seen also in kolose, and Tuvalu celebratory garments.

On Tuvalu's atolls, many of these colours are created using plant-based dyes on fibre, but an expansion in material options came with Lakiloko’s move to Aotearoa, providing a greater range of bright, synthetic materials to weave alongside their natural counterparts.

The works featured in Fafetu have been created using a mix of manufactured and natural materials including wool, synthetic ribbon, cloth ribbon, and plastic cargo ties.

Fafetu is curated by Malama T-Pole, an advocate for Tuvalu art forms and a member of the Niutao Community Trust.

For the past two years, Objectspace and the Trust have worked in partnership with Lakiloko Keakea and her family, to bring Fafetu to life, and the exhibition is on show at Objectspace until November 11. Admission is free.

Visit Objectspace for more information.