Lindah Lepou 2017 Matairangi Mahi Toi Pasifika artist in residence

Pacific multimedia artist and fashion designer Lindah Lepou who featured in Issue 11 of SPASIFIK is this year’s Matairangi Mahi Toi Pasifika artist in residence. The residency programme is a partnership between Massey University’s College of Creative Arts and Office of the Governor General.



The Governor-General, The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, and Sir David Gascoigne have welcomed Senior Māori and Pasifika artists the opportunity to live in a cottage at Government house, supported by Massey University, in a programme established last year by former Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae to encourage and promote visual arts by giving practical support.


Pasifika Advisor for The College of Creative Arts, Herbert Bartley says this residency is an opportunity to further celebrate Māori and Pasifika senior creative practitioners like Ms Lepou, who have made a significant contribution to New Zealand arts.


“Lindah was selected as we wanted a dynamic and independent pacific art leader to help develop the potential of our new residency partnership. Lindah’s innovation has paved the way for many in her 25 year career and her body of work has always been ahead of its time.”


For Ms Lepou, 44, the residency gave her the chance to reflect on a career that has defined how the world sees Pacific fashion and art.


“I was in the middle of a transition period in my life when this opportunity was presented to me. I thought this would be the perfect timing to disconnect from what I went through in Invercargill, reassess where too from here as an artist and transform myself from one cycle to the next which required a massive ‘letting go’ of the past.


“The final condition for me was that my cat, Tinky was allowed to come with me. Once he was confirmed, we both flew up and began the creative and spiritual process.”


Ms Lepou’s career has always had tension between her masculine/feminine worlds as fa’afafine, and her own Pacific/Palagi ‘gafa’ (lineage) at the core of her practice.


She coined the term, ‘Pacific Couture’ as a new language to help communicate and contribute a unique Pacific identity within the global fashion/art discourse.


“The industries and institutions didn't get it. It literally took 25 years to build a language to help them understand the significance of what I was doing and to help me communicate to the world what makes the Pacific and New Zealand special.”


She defines ‘Pacific’ being unique to her story and identity, already rich in ancestry, mythology and legend, while ‘Couture’ comes from traditional French haute couture houses that focused on one-off, made to measure works of art for the elite.


“At the time, Pacific Fashion had a narrow and ugly stigma to it, nothing to do with what I was creating. It was also commercially focused, whereas I was focusing on building a unique visual language that didn’t exist before me.” she says.


“For the last two decades, Māori and Asia-pacific designers around the world have been studying my work or using this unique ‘language’ to communicate their point of difference both artistically and commercially.”


The Matairangi Mahi Toi residency has given Ms Lepou the opportunity to re-visit her 25-year collection and the space to develop new works.


Ms Lepou’s 25-year exhibition gala at Government House on Friday October 13 will feature a display of key works from Te Papa’s collection and will unveil the new works developed as part of this residency.


The event will be a celebration of Ms Lepou as a truly multi-faceted artist and she hopes people will come open to the experience.


"My creative practice always includes a combination of fashion, music, photography, film and performance (movement) to express myself in a multidimensional way."


She says. “If the expectation is ‘Priscilla Queen of the desert’, please don’t come.”