Raymond Sagapolutele is an Aotearoa-born Samoan artist with family ties to the villages of Fatuvalu in Savai’i and Saluafata in Upolu, Samoa. He picked up the camera in 2003 and began a self- taught photography journey that would see him work with editorial publications Back to Basics and Rip It Up as a staff photog- rapher as well as submissions to the NZ Herald and Metro Magazine. Sagapolutele completed his Masters in Visual Arts in 2019, with first- class honours and received the Deans Award for Excellence in Postgraduate study from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT).
Raymond was a finalist in the 2019 and 2020 Wallace Arts Award and a finalist in the 2019 Glaister Ennor Graduate Art Awards. He honed his style of documentary street photographyas one of several photographers in the locally formed and internationally connected graffiti creative collective known as The Most Dedi- cated (TMD). Sagapolutele is also a founding member of the ManaRewa art collective based at Nathan Homestead in Manurewa and along- side senior members helps to tutor and support the local arts community.
For the artist, the camera has become a vital part of his ability to explore his heritage as a diasporic Samoan with cultural ties that link him to the history of the Pacific and the land within that vast ocean. The camera is how his visual language is given a voice, the method that forms his oratory and connects to the Samoan tradition of Fagogo (storytelling).
Pulou | Tapu | Tautua: These are the three images that make up my series ‘Memento Moni’ – a triptych that subverts the term ‘Memento Mori’ – remember, you will die, and replaces Latin for death with Samoan for truth. The work looks at the lived experiences of my life up to this moment and my connections and responsibilities to my parents and ancestors as represented by the skull. Pulou is connected to my mother, literally in that the knitted beanie was hers and part of her, right up to her passing in 2012. Tapu is a commentary on forgotten heritage and the faaaloalo / respect due to the choices made by my parents in raising their family in Aotearoa, away from their home in Samoa. Tapu also touches on the divine and sacred in Samoan cultural practice with a Tuiga constructed solely for this image and subsequently destroyed at the conclusion of the process of capturing it. Tautua is a reference to the artist and his practice, here it pays homage to not just the legacy of the artists parents but it encompasses the alofa and sacrifice of the artists ancestors. The ‘ei worn by the skull was gifted at the start of Mana Moana, a leadership program by Leadership NZ that was firmly embedded in reconnecting the candidates to their heritage as people of the Moana and their responsibilities that these lessons are not forgotten when serving their communities. All of these images are enveloped in the blackness that the artist has defined as the VA or relational space that features in all of his work, binding the work to each other.
Raymond Sagapolutele will appear with Bergman Gallery at the Auckland Art Fair, February 24-28, 2021.
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