Multidisciplinary artist Moe Laga photographed in Ema Tavola’s South Auckland garage by Tanu Gago (Supplied)
Multidisciplinary artist Moe Laga photographed in Ema Tavola’s South Auckland garage by Tanu Gago (Supplied)

SocietyDecember 11, 2022

In celebration of my South Auckland garage

Multidisciplinary artist Moe Laga photographed in Ema Tavola’s South Auckland garage by Tanu Gago (Supplied)
Multidisciplinary artist Moe Laga photographed in Ema Tavola’s South Auckland garage by Tanu Gago (Supplied)

In response to Chris Luxon’s comment about potential gang members ‘sitting in a garage in South Auckland’, artist-curator Ema Tavola shares some photos of people who visited her own garage over the years.

All photos courtesy of Ema Tavola  / VunilagiVou except where indicated.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon is my MP; I’ve just moved to East Tāmaki, a stone’s throw from Ōtara, South Auckland heartland. Luxon’s Botany electorate includes a pretty substantial chunk of Ōtara, a suburb well known for its strong and youthful working class, predominantly Pacific population. I’ve lived most of my adult life in South Auckland, moving here from Fiji to study, and staying for the opportunities in the arts and culture sector. Having studied and worked here, run Fresh Gallery Ōtara (2006-2012) and taught at Manukau Institute of Technology, Ōtara has been the epicentre of my creative practice, and my service back to the community through the arts.

Before moving to Luxon’s Botany electorate, I lived for almost 20 years in a family home in Papatoetoe, the garage of which was a site for Pacific art parties, talanoa, painting, scheming, haircuts, tattoos, photoshoots and later converted to an art gallery.

While most of Luxon’s position on crime, gangs and punishment is glaringly out-of-touch, conveniently overlooking the inextricable and undeniable connections between poverty, systemic inequality and structural racism, it’s his casual stereotyping that can get right in the bin. It is perhaps hardest to swallow when watching a conversation between two Pākehā men in suits discussing youth criminality and how “we” stop “them” from joining gangs in the first place.

Luxon was interviewed by Chris Lynch on December 1 about crime, the health system and nursing. When asked about how National would prevent youth crime, Luxon said: “If you’re sitting in a garage in South Auckland with your two brothers and you’re thinking about life and where you’re going, consciously or unconsciously, the gang life looks pretty attractive.”

The clip was posted on Instagram this week and commentary from Māori, Pacific and South Aucklanders across social media has been gloriously savage.

There are so many resources Luxon could reference to help him craft better narratives, but he could start with South Auckland academic Dr Belinda Borell’s work on white privilege and structural racism. And while Luxon’s words are simply characteristic of his party’s steadfast commitment to the systems that centre and privilege Pākehā men, I felt compelled to tweet into the abyss: don’t EVER come for our garages!

The South Auckland garage that I’ve known and loved for most of my adult life has been a place of safety and sanctuary, deep creativity and transformation.

In 2002, Tongan painter Samiu Napa’a painted an oil on linen work in the garage entitled Homies. It went on to be shown at Fresh Gallery Ōtara, where Napa’a showed paintings made in this garage on multiple occasions, in addition to working on commissioned portraits.

Award-winning artist and co-founder of FAFSWAG, Tanu Gago MNZM started making photographic portraiture in this garage. His work Daniel (2012), made with South Auckland photographer Vinesh Kumaran, has been exhibited widely and was purchased by the Auckland Art Gallery for the exhibition Home:AKL. Tanu Gago went on to become an Arts Laureate and a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

In 2020, a group of friends and colleagues formed an informal collective of South Auckland-based arts managers and producers called Tū Tonu. We had a common commitment to supporting the participation, development and growth of the intergenerational Moana (Māori and Pacific) communities we are part of, and we are all proud to call South Auckland home. Our meetings in the garage were so incredibly inspiring. In this picture, there are three members of the New Zealand Order of Merit, public servants, teachers and artists. All brown, in a garage, in South Auckland.

Photo by Iokapeta Magele-Suamasi

This humble South Auckland garage was also the setting for this exquisite series of portraits by Moe Laga. Behold… a South Aucklander… in contemplation, in a garage.

Learn more about Moe Laga, this amazing multidisciplinary artist and performer here.

Artist: Moe Laga, Photographer: Tanu Gago

But it wasn’t all award-winning art making. The garage was where numerous event banners came to life, a huge and undocumented economy in the creative ecology of South Auckland. I made this one while at home with a one-year-old while her father, a South Aucklander, was out getting a logistics qualification to later become a shipping agent and not a gang member.

Just to really problematise the misconception of brown people in garages in South Auckland, here’s four photos of VunilagiVou 2.0, the garage gallery fitted out by Ōtara-based artist Sean Kerrigan, where we hosted politicians and scholars, discussed historical portraiture and provenance and held weekly yoga and meditation classes.

Our first visitor to Vunilagi Vou 2.0: Greens co-leader Marama Davidson, left
Portrait of Norman Kirk by Johanna Van Massop
Me with MahMah Timoteo and David Garcia, PhD candidates from the University of Canterbury, discussing their doctoral research, May 2021
$5 Yoga and meditation class with Samoan instructor Gamo Farani-Tomlin

Last year, our family house was sold and the last artwork I made was an ode to the garage. This was one of three fleece blankets printed with digital collages inspired by tarot card design and referencing the shift from this house into the unknown. This was the first of the set; the series was commissioned by The Community Reading Room for an exhibition called “Volumes: Bodies of Knowledge” for Metro Arts in Brisbane.

Keep going!