The Pacific's diverse arts make a 'house call' on Auckland's suburbs this month, writes Sarah Ell.

Auckland is often referred to as the world's largest Polynesian city, yet many of its residents have little contact with Pacific culture. To rectify this after four years in its traditional stronghold in South Auckland, the Southside Arts Festival, is spreading the cutting edge of Polynesian arts around the Super City.

This year's festival, themed Urbanesia, has events in "village" hubs at Otara, Mangere, Henderson and Takapuna throughout the month.

Festival director Olivia Taouma says the programme has been designed so people throughout the region can more easily experience the festival's range of events.

"We have a fantastic number of Pacific and Maori artists coming out of Auckland and going out to the world, and we wanted to collate that and showcase it," she says. "This year we also wanted to broaden it out regionally, so that all of Auckland will have better access to it.

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"Having these village hubs makes the locations easier to get to, so you don't have to travel so much. There are lots of things going on for free or at low cost. We want people to come along with a picnic, put down a rug and enjoy some music, go into the galleries and attend workshops."

Anchoring the event are two big shows: Parris Goebel's Moonchild, featuring her signature Polyswagg hip-hop style, at the Vodafone Events Centre (November 14 and 15), and Cult Couture: Fabrik Navigators at the Mangere Arts Centre (November 20-22), celebrating Pacific fashion and the creations of internationally acclaimed designer Lindah Lepou.


Cult Couture puts Pacific style on the runway. Pictured is Hydra 2013, by Angela Carter worn by Sharne from Red Eleven, photographed by Paul Ross Jones.

Here are some of the midweek and weekend events, many free and family-friendly, at the village venues.

South

Otara is the first of the villages to host events, starting on Wednesday (November 12-15). Cruise the Otara markets on the Saturday morning to watch the Battlecry hip-hop battles at the Otara Music and Arts Centre. Also at the Arts Centre is a development workshop performance of a new musical by Playmarket award-winner Paul Fagamalo, The Way of the Queen.

"People are encouraged to come along, give feedback and discuss it," says Taouma. "It's a chance not only to see the work, but also be part of its development."

Participation is also encouraged at Dead Pigs Don't Grow on Trees (Mangere Arts Centre, Saturday, November 22) a "living exhibition" by artist Rosanna Raymond exploring Polynesian art and the body.

"It's very interactive, open studio, getting people to look at questions being asked by the exhibition and create ideas and pieces themselves, then participants get to show the work they've created," says Taouma.

Featuring at all four villages are CoLAB - "collaborative/collective/competitive live art battles" - in which up-and-coming artists from graphic arts, tattooing, cartooning and street art take on each other in two-hour, one-on-one "battles" to decorate their own 2m-square MDF panel.

Co-ordinator Allen Vili, better known by his art name Onesian, says the artists can use a range of media to create a Pacific-themed work, right in front of an audience.

"It's great for people to be able to see the process of art being created live," he says. "There's a big difference between that and seeing something preconceived in a gallery."

West

The festival then heads west from November 23-26, with a "whanau day" in Henderson (Sunday, November 23). An afternoon of family-friendly events, ranging from live art- and jewellery-making and workshops, to musical and dance performances and physical theatre, will take place at the town centre and the nearby Corban Estate Arts Centre.


Whanau Day visitors can learn to weave with an expert.

Also on display at the Corban Estate is Goosh, an exhibition of abstract paintings by Auckland artist Claudia Jowitt. Jowitt's uncle was the late photographer Glenn Jowitt, whose portfolio includes iconic images of Pacific people and their cultures in New Zealand and the islands, shot over 30 years. Jowitt has also recently started exploring her own Polynesian heritage, getting in touch with her father's Fijian birth family in Savusavu.

As part of Urbanesia, Jowitt will be running a children's art workshop at Corban Estate (Saturday, November 15), where young artists can recreate some of her works, using collage and paint.

"They can explore the whole idea of abstraction - form, composition and colour," she says. "I find myself fighting against over-thinking my work, but kids are much better at not thinking too much and just enjoying the process."

North

In the final week of the festival, Takapuna's Lake House Arts Centre and Hurstmere Green become honorary Pacific villages (November 27-29). The festival closes with Urbanesia Celebration Day (Saturday, November 29), with music, theatre, poetry, workshops and activities at both venues.

One of the highlights is Pukepuke 'O Tonga, a suite of ancient, traditional Tongan dances from the pre-contact period, choreographed by Sesilia Pusiaki. The show draws on rarely seen unique dance forms kept alive by Pusiaki's father's village.


Pukepuke 'O Tonga will bring their celebrated show to festival-goers.

"The dances tell the story of a Tongan village through the activities of the villagers, from the morning to when the men leave to go to sea, and when they return back home with whatever they have gained. The dances from this time were related to daily life, rather than creating movement and pattern," says Pusiaki.

"It's about preserving Tongan heritage and culture and showcasing it in a way that people can understand, rather than us just getting up to entertain."