Whangārei Art Museum (WAM) was alive with vibrant colour, sound and people on Saturday with the opening of the Fafetu exhibition.
The exhibition, running until May 23, was launched with a pōwhiri that included a fusion of cultures, with a 50-plus Tuvaluan contingent from Auckland.
WAM marketing manager Larissa McMillan described the event as a joyful celebration.
"The gallery space was filled with Tuvaluan singing and dancing. The Tuvaluan group stunned everyone with their beautiful singing voices."
The celebration rolled into the late afternoon, with many of the locals staying to soak in the atmosphere.
"It was a pleasure to see Whangārei's Pasifika community come along to tautoko [support] the group," said McMillan.
For some of the Tuvaluan guests, it was their first visit to Whangārei and, "They loved their time here, singing all the way back to Tamaki Makaurau."
Fafetu is a major exhibition of work by Tuvaluan master artist Lakiloko Keakea, including 40 new works created between 2016-2018.
Fafetu translates to "star" in Tuvaluan. The creations are handwoven from a mix of materials such as wool, synthetic ribbon, cloth and plastic.
This is the first major solo exhibition of Keakea's work, building on a practice of over five decades, and is accompanied by a number of papa (plain mats) created by West Auckland-based women's group Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa, of which Keakea is a member.
Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa is a Tuvaluan arts collective with members hailing from the Island of Niutao. It was established in Auckland to ensure the art-making practices of the members' homeland were known and continued by younger generations now living in New Zealand. The transmission of tactile knowledge is integral to safeguard the continuation of Tuvaluan artforms and, in this major project by Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa, the knowledge is passed through the core practice of weaving the papa.
Because the palm-like pandanus tree does not grow in Aotearoa, pufasa (reams) of leaves have been harvested by family members on Niutao Island and were shipped to Auckland in 2017. For some members, this has been a return to pandanus weaving after a break of decades.
McMillan said the mats not only bring warmth and authenticity to the gallery space, they also mark a monumental collaborative undertaking.
"The hands of many of the Niutao population in Tamaki Makaurau have participated in the creation of these mats. They are a physical embodiment of the community and the way in which they support and honour each other and the important rituals of Tuvaluan life."