March 8 – May 4, 2018
If you alphabetically consider all the first lines of Emily Dickinson’s poems, the very last one asks, You’ve seen balloons set, haven’t you? I recalled that question at Mangere’s People Centre in Mangere when I previewed Andy Leleisi’uao’s largest public painting.
Titled Mangere Aroha, it has to be one of the most extraordinary murals created for a Manukau City site since Ralph Hotere’s own Godwit – Kuaka mural, made for the arrivals lounge of Auckland International Airport (Chartwell collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki). Mangere Aroha was rejected by its commissioners as being both too expressive and too visually powerful for its planned public location.
Red and white flame-like vapours cover Andy’s Mangere Aroha. Not the clouds we see in John Pule’s work or the speech balloons of McCahon’s early paintings but tough gaseous entities exuding ethers created from human relationships. Harpies and devils, angels and erotes (Greek Gods of Love) inhabit this painting’s complex population. Here, there are no images of any one particular Pacific ethnicity but a confluence of such ethnicities. Janus-headed figures appear like silhouetted plant forms ranging across the near 16 metres of the mural.
The City of Manukau has quantified its own make-up as a mix of ‘165 different ethnic groups’ while also having the largest Māori and Pacific population of any New Zealand city. This is the true migrant reality that Mangere Aroha seeks to affirm.
Andy’s prescient talent for seeing who we are, what we are like and what we do is a signature of his art. By revealing the ways that the effects of migration still exist within us, he symbolizes an essential characteristic of our culture. Ron Brownson, Senior Curator, New Zealand and Pacific Art, Auckland Art Gallery, Toi O Tamaki.
It was with absolute delight that I acquired Andy Leleisi’uao’s magnificent work Mangere Aroha in 2010.
My first experience with this large scale mural was all encompassing. Invited to view the work in progress, its enormous gravitational field pulled me into an alternative realm roaring with genesis energy. I was captivated, hypnotized, my eyes meandering with the characters in play before me. This was a renaissance work. Andy’s astute observations of a displaced pacific community fused together in an epic construct befitting Hieronymus Bosch.
Clearly rejecting the premise of painting pretty imagery to befit the community centre it was commissioned for, the artist presented a challenge to the public, daring them to look beyond the obvious. The history and on-going reality of Pacific island integration in Auckland wasn’t overly pretty, why should he paint it as such? Immigration and cultural amalgamation have always been contentious issues. One only has to look at the recent cycle of global democratic elections to further appreciate that.
Nearing completion, and concerned by the aesthetic value of the mural, its commissioning body invited public submissions to comment on the work before its final installation. The artists challenge was largely overlooked and the returned submission forms while mostly respectful, predictably requested that the public mural take on a more generic character.
And so Mangere Aroha ironically came home to reside in the Pacific, where it is re-presented now almost a decade after its creation, its message as fresh as the day it was created. Ben Bergman.
Mangere Aroha, 2009
1740x1200mm x 5 panels
2400x1200mm x 3 panels
Acrylic on 10mm plywood