Samoan nominated for prestigious NZ Arts Award

Samoan Pati Solomona Tyrell is one of the youngest artists nominated for the most esteemed award in New Zealand visual arts The Walters Prize for his work Fāgogo. Fāgogo initially started as coursework for his Manukau Institute of Technology Diploma of Visual Arts and was first exhibited at the St Paul St Gallery, part of Auckland University of Technology from 8 June–21 July 2017. Fāgogo and the rest of the nominated works will be on display at the Auckland Art Gallery until January 2019 however the winner will be announced in November this year.



Currently in Paris France to present the short films Khaos, Tamatoa and Fang from the Vogue Interactive Documentary FAFSWAGVOGUE.COM to the Centre Pompidou, Pati Solomona Tyrell’s Walters Prize nominated work Fāgogo draws out threads of conversations around Pacific queer identity.


It presents many of Pati’s other narratives, such as his extensive documentation of the community over five years as the principle photographer for the FAFSWAG Arts Collective- the South Auckland based arts collective which he co-founded.


The Bachelor of Creative Arts graduate, who graduated from Manukau Institute of Technology, says Fāgogo can mirror the real world in ways that transcend contemporary life, through cultural imperatives that pre-date Western beliefs and value systems.


Often considered a place where heritage and tradition fall away from colonial distortions, and, in some instances, from linear narrative conventions, a fāgogo can build perceptions of the world while simultaneously presenting us with perspectives that are ethereal.


It’s reported the Auckland Art Gallery invested in a 4K projector so Tyrell's nominated video, which opens with a methodically pronounced poem and features a multitude of restless and embellished bodies, stands 3.4m tall and 6.1m wide.



The research, writing, choreography, styling and garment construction is all collaborative and honours the tradition of fāgogo, says Tyrell.


This is achieved by sharing the responsibility of telling this story and allowing artists to respond to their own cultural heritage, unpacking the colonial gaze placed on queer brown bodies to return gender and sexually diverse identities back to their oracle status.


Established in 2002, The Walters Prize presents the very best of New Zealand contemporary art, as selected by an independent jury, in an exhibition from which a winner will be determined by a widely respected international judge.


The Walters Prize exhibiting is currently being held at Auckland Art Gallery until Sunday 20 January 2019.


Auckland Art Gallery Director Rhana Devenport says: ‘The Walters Prize continues to engage audiences by providing rich encounters with art of our time. This year is no exception with a group of artists and artworks which captivate us mentally, sensorially and emotionally.’


An international judge will select the winning work and award the NZD$50,000 prize at the Walters Prize 2018 Gala Dinner in November this year.


Read the Jury statement on Tyrell’s 'Fāgogo’:


'Fāgogo’ is a traditional practice that involves theatrical and performance-based forms of storytelling, which take place at night, before sleep. Pati Solomona Tyrell’s video work Fāgogo, likewise, explores this border between sleeping and waking. Individual figures merge into trios of fragmented bodies which continually mirror and fold into one another, conveying fluid gender and sexual identities. The powerful rhythmic texture of the video sustains this sense of bodies undergoing transformation in time, and in tune with a natural world which shuns the singular or, to quote, Tyrell: ‘I am not an individual’. Instead bodies are kaleidoscopic, iridescent and shape-shifting; figures move in liquid rhythms. At once intense and gently dreamlike, the work creates passages between the disparate notions of sea and land, ancient imagery and new media.


Alongside Fāgogo, the exhibition hosted performances, research and events associated with the collective FAFSWAG, of which Tyrell is a founding member and principal photographer.


The other three artworks nominated by this year’s jury as representing the most outstanding contributions to contemporary art in New Zealand in the preceding two-year period are:


  • BAD VISUAL SYSTEMS, 2016, by Ruth Buchanan, exhibited at the Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi, Victoria University of Wellington, 2 October–22 December 2016


  • The Making of Mississippi Grind 2017, 2017, by Jacqueline Fraser, exhibited at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 20 May–15 October 2017


  • Whol Why Wurld, 2017, by Jess Johnson with Simon Ward, exhibited at Carriageworks, Sydney, 30 March–25 June 2017


The 2018 Walters Prize jury members are:


  • Stephen Cleland, Curator, Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi


  • Allan Smith, freelance curator and Senior Lecturer, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland


  • Lara Strongman, Senior Curator, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū


  • Megan Tamati-Quennell, Curator Modern & Contemporary Māori and Indigenous Art, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa