Ranui 135. Edith Amituana’i.
19 June – 27 July 2013. Anna Miles Gallery
The traditional idea of home being a physical location, usually a hometown where one was raised, is not so relative to people today. The idea of home has become an abstract concept. With large communities of immigrants moving to New Zealand, what becomes of their home now? Is it the one they left behind or the one that they are creating in their new country? How do we connect to a physical place that we may have only just newly arrived at.
Auckland artist Edith Amituanai questions these notions herself through her photographic practice. Her images involve communities, people and their everyday lives. It is the simple act of living and connecting to our surroundings that inspires and motivates Amituanai’s work.
Her last series of work involved photographing children passing by her driveway on their way to and from school. Rather than continue to keep herself contained in her own immediate surroundings, for her latest showing Ranui 135 she has chosen to take herself out and into the community that she is a part of – Ranui, West Auckland. Amituanai made a make shift photo booth and took it with her to different community and church events that she is involved in personally, allowing visitors to the events to have their photo taken.
Anna Miles gallery is a small and intimate space and upon walking in to the gallery the large poster format prints of Amituanai’s photographs dominate. Although the size of them takes over the wall space the subjects and informality of the printing style make this okay, perhaps if these were large framed photographs the usual gallery visitor would expect something more formal which would mean less images and more space but in this case it is not needed.
In fact when I stood back after walking around the show, I don’t think there could have been another more effective way of showing these images. Framing would have lessened the warmth and richness.
There is an instant ease with Amituanai’s work; it’s accessible and honest. There is no hiding behind metaphors, what you see is what you get. For this, I commend her. It is refreshing to have a positive showing of a community that is predominantly pacific people amongst the negativity in the media as of late.
I was drawn instantly to the image of Veronique Kini at her Sunday School Ball, hands on her hips, she looks just off to the side of the camera with her mouth open – maybe mid talk but I like to think she is chewing gum, sassiness and class all at a young age. As I wandered around the space, taking in each image I felt a small, knowing smile appear on my face and warmth in my chest for the realness that it portrayed. By the end I felt as if I were a part of this community too.
There is a range of people that appear in the photo booth images; children, a local constable involved in youth groups and an older Samoan man with an almost bashful look on his face looking not at the camera but away perhaps sharing a joke with someone off camera. There is more to come for this project, Amituanai has been working with a young pacific filmmaker and has created a blog, which she updates regularly. I am intrigued to see what else will come from the Ranui project as this first offering has been so refreshing.
For someone, like myself, who did not grow up in a pacific island community but is still of pacific island descent, Amituanai’s work is just as accessible and relatable as if I had. Her photographs remind me of my trips to Auckland as a child to visit my Samoan/Cook Island family, they bring back memories of being that cheeky kid hanging out with my cousins and kicking a ball down at the Avondale Reserve. I see my mixed, multi cultural family in each image and for that reason, I feel at home with Amituanai’s work.
Although that is my personal connection to her work I believe that Amituanai’s practice is not exclusive to only the pacific island community, her images and their messages are approachable to anyone and have a way of letting viewers find their own connection to a community they may not necessarily know first hand.
When I leave the gallery space my smile stays firmly in place and a part of me begins to understand what Amituanai is saying in regards to the idea of home. It doesn’t matter whether you have lived in a place for five days or five years. Home is where you feel comfortable, where you feel like you are a part of something no matter what race, gender or class you are. It is where you connect to not just physical things but people too; they will always be the true heart and anchor of any place that you live.
And that is why on that day as I walked away I could not stop smiling because I found the meaning of home in those smiling faces of Ranui 135.
Photo credit: Anna Miles Gallery