Benjamin Work

Ha’a Lātūhifo /  Shetland.
b.1979, Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland.

Benjamin Work’s evolution exemplifies the new trajectories of artists reared on American sub/pop culture, while also explicitly exploring the complexities of both cultural institutions and Pacific diaspora. Drawing on his Tongan heritage, Work has pushed his art in new directions over the last decade. Inspired by the iconography found on cultural treasures such as ‘akau tau (war clubs), his refined, graphic paintings have sought to find new spaces and ways for audiences to engage with Tonga’s visual culture, both inside institutions and on the streets.

Benjamin is a core member of the international art collective, TMD, and is also an active member of the Tongan art collective, No’o Fakataha. With a solid grounding in aerosol painting, his initial creative output centered around sub/pop-cultural influences that emerged from North America in the 1970s -1990s. Since then, Benjamin has continued his journey of ancestral discovery and steadily developed his interests and research into aspects of Tongan history and culture.

Benjamin’s practice extends across a diverse range of projects, which include large scale public murals, commercial print based media, paintings, photography and performance. Combining an ongoing investigation into the symbolic use of colour, kula (red) and `uli (black), with a strong interest in Tongan history, Ngatu (bark cloth) making, Kupesi (designs and motifs), and the heliaki (semiotics) of the Povāi (ancient Tongan war clubs), his work forms as a contemporary point which furthers the parallels that can be drawn between established Tongan traditions and practices, and the spiritual and social significance these have for Tongans within the Pacific diaspora. The bold visual language of his work references historical narratives, iconography, symbolism, and design elements that are particular to Tongan culture, which are also firmly positioned amidst notions connected with Ta and Va (time and space) Tatau (symmetry), Potupotutatau (harmony) and Faka `ofa `ofa (beauty). Benjamin has exhibited in Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, North America, Rarotonga and Tonga where he travels frequently.

SOLO EXHIBITIONS:

  • 2021: Hake Project – Canterbury Museum, Christchurch.
  • 2018: Write it on the land, seal it on the heart – Te Tuhi Gallery, Auckland.
  • 2017: Whenua Fonua ‘Enua – Malcolm Smith Gallery, Auckland.
  • 2016: For King and Country, Ma’ae Tu’i moe e Fonua, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
  • 2016: The Glorious Children of Te Tumu, Salisbury International Arts Festival, England.
  • 2016: The Glorious Children of Te Tumu, Corban Estate.
  • 2015: For King and Country, Ma’ae Tu’i moe e Fonua, Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku, Auckland.
  • 2015: Toutoutā’, Olivia Laita Gallery, Onehunga, Auckland.
  • 2014: I see red, I see red, I see red, FRESH Gallery, Otara, Auckland.

GROUP SHOWS/PRESENTATIONS:

  • 2021: The Most Dedicated: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story, The Dowse Art Museum, Wellington, NZ; Life After Death – Franklin Gallery, Auckland.
  • 2020: Tatou 2, The Story of US, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
  • 2019: Auckland Art Fair Bergman Gallery, Auckland, NZ; Art in the dark II – Me’a’ofa Gallery, Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
  • 2018: MPA#1, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
  • 2017:  Return to Havaiki | UFO Islands, with Andy Leleisiúao, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga; Post Graffiti Pacific – TSB Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland.
  • 2016: New York’s Night Out, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
  • 2016: Katharsis, Calder & Lawson Gallery, August 1 – September 30.
  • 2014:  Post Graffiti Pacific, Ambush Gallery, Sydney, Australia; If these walls could talk, Wallace Trust, Pah Homestead, Auckland; Show room opening, Olivia Laita Gallery, Auckland; Louder, Print Group show, Studio 40, Auckland;
    Tauhi Vā  No’o Fakataha, FRESH Gallery Otara, Auckland; Hold your breath, Whitespace, Auckland.
  • 2013:  Atenisi, No’o Fakataha Collective, Kingdom of Tonga.
  • 2012:  Matala Festival, Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku, Auckland.
  • 2011:  Presence, Artstation, Auckland.
  • 2010: The Miami Dream, Shed5, Auckland.
  • 2009:  Hecho en Mexico, Tijuana, Mexico.

STREET WORK:

  • 2014: Auckland art week, commissioned mural, Fort Street, Auckland CBD. Graffiato, outdoor mural festival, Taupo CBD. I see red mural, public mural, Otara Town Centre, Auckland. All fresco, street art event, Karangahapē Road, Auckland.
  • 2013: From the ground up, public mural event, Christchurch CBD.  TMD x Corbans, outdoor mural, Corbans Estate Art Centre, Auckland. Graffiato, outdoor mural festival, Taupo CBD.  Samoa victim support group, outdoor mural, Apia, Samoa.
  • 2010: Krosswerds festival, outdoor mural, Sydney, Australia; Primary flight, outdoor mural, Art Basel, Miami, USA.

COLLECTIONS:

  • TSB Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland, NZ.
  • Auckland Museum, NZ.
  • Welt Museum, Vienna, Austria.
  • Wrightmann House, Christchurch, NZ.

ARTIST IN RESIDENCE:

  • CMBB Para Site International Art Residency (PS IAR) 2019,  Hong Kong.