Tongan artists' exhibition navigates the 'Niu' world on tapa

February 11, 2021



By Ruci Farrell

A unique tapa exhibition launching in Auckland this week explores the “Niu” world of Covid-19 the world is navigating.

Voyagers: The Niu World showcases a collection of tapa artworks by award-winning Tongan artists Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows and her daughter Tui Emma Gillies. 

Their collection was created during and after lockdown and reflects on the idea of navigating a changed world in the midst of a pandemic.

“We’re all voyaging at the moment through rough waters because we don’t know what our destination is going to be at the end of it,” Tui Emma Gillies says.

“That’s what’s inspired the name of the exhibition we’re moving forward into the new world. The works in the exhibition are pretty much storytelling about people and their journey.”

Tui says during isolation families were stuck together at home but we also had people at home in their own bubble who are very social people who couldn’t leave their home and they struggled a lot.

“I painted bubbles and put people in there almost like claustrophobic bubbles. Also our elderly were suffering as well and they’re quite vulnerable to this virus.

“I think Covid-19 is a wake up call for everybody that when we all come together as a population we can really work quickly to change things.

“But it’s a case of does everyone want to make it work. Take a look at the Netherlands … people are burning Covid testing stations destroying and burning them down.”

Tui says there’s so much uncertainty out there and many people are asking how long is Covid-19 going to last.

“We also feature faces of people wearing masks, almost like a reflection of us looking out. This is who we are at the moment… we just don’t know who we’re going to lose. There’s just so much uncertainty,” Tui Ema Gilies says.

The exhibition preview at the Tautai Gallery at 300 Karangahape Road is tomorrow night from 6pm and continues to Saturday April 24.