Auckland revels in the title of the biggest: Polynesian city in the world. This week it celebrates that title when the sights and sounds of the islands come to the city's parks and public places, says Sarah Ell.

The contemporary art and culture of the Pacific will once again be celebrated in the world's largest Polynesia city this month. The Southside Arts Festival has morphed into Urbanesia, and offers more than 70 events, concerts, workshops and family days, many of them free, at a range of venues.

Olivia Taouma, Auckland Council Pasifika arts and culture programme leader, who curated the festival programme, says last year's event piloted the idea of spreading events around the city, basing them around four town centres.

"This year we've opened it up even further, to allow a lot more communities to take ownership of their own events," she says.

"We want all of Auckland to be able to experience amazing contemporary Pacific art, see different views and experience different things, and to take some of those experiences with them."


"It's part of Auckland's unique identity in the world, and we want to celebrate and showcase that, and bring it to a community near you."

Another key part of the programme is that most events are either free or low cost.

Here are a few of the highlights from this year's event, around the city.


Taouma says one of the festival's highlights will be the free World Hip-Hop Showcase on Friday, November 20, at the Hawkins Theatre in Papakura.

Six top dance crews from this year's world championships will show their moves, there will be a pop-up hip-hop photography exhibition by Grant Apiata and world-renowned DJs will spin the decks.

"Hip-hop is a big part of the youth culture in Auckland, especially with Parris Goebel becoming a world-leading choreographer, and it's great to be able to showcase that in this festival," she says.

There's also a celebration of Pacific tattoo art, Indigenous Ink, at MIT Manukau, on November 21 and 22.

The all-ages event will feature tattoo artists from New Zealand and around the South Pacific Islands, and will include demonstrations, artist talks and film screenings celebrating the form.

"A lot of people have very stereotypical ideas about tattoos and tattooing, so it will be interesting for them to learn the cultural aspects behind them and the meaning behind the designs," Taouma says.

South Auckland will also host the only local date on the Black Grace dance company's 20 for 20 tour, at the Mangere Arts Centre on November 19.

The show celebrate's the company's 20 year and includes a selection of Black Grace's most popular works.

Tickets are $20 at the door.

The company will also hold a free open rehearsal at the Fairburn Reserve in Otahuhu earlier that day.

Nafanua is a showcase of iconic warrior leaders of the Pacific
Nafanua is a showcase of iconic warrior leaders of the Pacific


Taouma says Urbanesia Under the Stars will feature an outdoor family movie at the Northcote Town Centre on the evening of November 20. Families and groups are encouraged to bring a picnic and enjoy an evening of entertainment, workshops and a basketball game before the main feature screens.

The Northcote Town Centre will be jumping the next day, when a Family Pasifika Day features free Pacific workshops, music, exhibits and live art, ending with a performance by international hip-hop star Savage.

Leading Pasifika and Maori DJs including King Kapisi will also show their skills on the "wheels of steel" to get everybody dancing, and the physical comedy group White Face Crew will provide interactive theatre and pop-up entertainment for the crowd.


Henderson's Corban Estate Arts Centre is hosting interactive arts experiences during the festival, at its Pacifica Arts Centre. There are all-ages weaving workshops, music, dance and drums workshops and the chance to take part in the creation of a Star Map sculpture with Niuean artist Chris Van Doren. The Star Map will then be used as a stage for storytelling performances.

The new Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery in Titirangi will host a Write Night storytelling session and discussion facilitated by poet and Pacific historian Leilani Tamu (Wednesday, November 25); the Olympic Park Life event in New Lynn, showcases murals by local artists and live music and games in the park (Saturday November 28); and Sounding the Spider is a day of creative activity, spoken word and live music from local Pacific artists, held under the spider in the heart of Avondale (Sunday, November 22).

An image from You're Local exhibit at Nathan Homestead Gallery
An image from You're Local exhibit at Nathan Homestead Gallery


In East Auckland, the spectacular Te Oro arts centre in Glen Innes (pictured) will host several dance, film and theatre events, including new Pacific comedies by Niu Theatre Works: The Brown Print by Una Funaki, and The Eel and Sina by Jono Soo-Choon.

Te Oro will also host the Pollywood 132015 film and multimedia showcase, celebrating 13 years of Pasifika film. Sessions will also be held at the Mangere Arts Centre,

Te Uru Waitakere and the Auckland Art Gallery.

Also in the central city, the National Maritime Museum will be holding waka workshops and gallery tours on Saturdays throughout the festival, and outdoor exhibitions of Pacific art will be on display around Silo Park. Also today Red Cross is celebrating 100 years of service around the Pacific, and will be putting on displays and entertainment at Shed 10 on Queens Wharf.