Tautua - bonds of blood, unity and diversity

The distinctive paintings of Pascal Atiga-Bridger use elements of the design of the Union Jack to illustrate some of the effects of British colonisation. VICTOR VAN WETERING reports.



When Tautua opens at Papakura Art Gallery on 21 October, it will be a milestone for Pascal Atiga-Bridger in several respects. It will be his first solo exhibition in a public gallery, in the community where he grew up and still lives, and with work that celebrates a unity and diversity that transcends nationality.


Atiga-Bridger’s work draws upon his extended family’s diverse cultures. The 40-year-old’s whakapapa includes Maori, Samoan, European and Niuean lineage.


“My works in Tautua showcase my family's ties to my turangawaewae by being tangata whenua. My paintings replace the original colours on the Union Jack with those of the Maori flag, and those of the countries of Samoa, Niue, Tahiti and Papua New Guinea. The results symbolise the connection some of these islands have with the United Kingdom through colonisation.”


While his works for the exhibition show the influence of American painter and printmaker Jasper Johns, they also reflect Atiga-Bridger’s extensive research into how indigenous flags, and traditional and contemporary art practices in Pacific nations, have been shaped by colonial influences.



“This research is helping me develop a deeper understanding of how to portray my family's identity within my current works. I want my works to reflect the diversity that many families have within our community. I want to connect to the people of Papakura. My art will be shown in a public gallery. My art is for the Papakura community.”


This philosophy prompted Atiga-Bridger to invite students at Redhill Primary, the school he attended as a child, to design and make their own flags at workshops at Papakura Gallery. These works will be on display in the gallery’s front window during the Tautua exhibition.


Atiga-Bridger credits several mentors with helping him gain the skills needed to mount Tautua – including Janet Lilo, Reina Sutton and Leilani Kake, and Avondale’s The Creative Souls Project and South Auckland’s ManaRewa collectives. “These creatives have been vital in my gaining the experience, time management and installation skills needed.”


As well as collaborating with fellow artists and on community-focused projects, Atiga-Bridger is employed by Tautai in a Tertiary Liaison role – providing support, and facilitating connections between, arts students across institutions. This work includes organising gallery visits, critique sessions, and tertiary exchanges.