A Conversation with Ana Teofilo – May 2017
WH: You are a NZ Samoan. Where were you born?
AT: South Island – Dunedin
WH: You are based in Dunedin, well removed from the hub of the Pacific, Auckland – Do you see this as a
disadvantage or a plus?
AT: Definitely I see it as a plus! I knew from the beginning when I was first studying in Auckland that I needed to be back home so that I could find my identity in my paintings. I wasn’t finding it in Auckland, although I thought I would as it is the biggest Polynesian city in NZ, but the thing was, Auckland isn’t my hometown and has no meaning to me, whereas Dunedin is my birth place. My heart and soul is in Dunedin. My art reflects my point of difference which is being a pacific artist born and raised in Dunedin. The culture, the people, the environment itself is totally different from Auckland and this is reflected in my paintings. Yes, there are traditional/pacific symbols seen in my art, but there is also my Dunedin influence for example, my painting styles and technique which contributes to the overall pacific art in NZ. I feel my contribution to the overall landscape of Pacific arts in NZ is that I bring Pacific art from the Deep South. How can you talk about NZ Pacific art when the perception is that the majority of Pacific artists are in Auckland/Wellington. I think my contribution puts the South Island pacific art scene on the NZ map but also encourages other emerging Pacific artists in the South Island, showing them that they do not need to be from Auckland to follow their passion or express themselves as a Pacific artist.
WH: It is wonderful to see a Samoan artist working in a
traditional style, yet exploring your own concepts and ideas as well. What made you decide to follow this path as an artist?
AT: The one question that came to mind while I was in my final year of my bachelor degree was, “What can set me apart from all the other pacific Islanders who incorporate patterns?” Deep down in my heart, it was the carving that set me apart, I don’t know of any other female Pacific Island carvers who do what I do. The glue dot was born in Auckland while I was at Unitec, Mt Albert. During my final year a lecturer told me to “never ever use glue dots again, it looks tacky!” I was hurt because I thought I had come up with something new and exciting. Although at the time my glue dotting may have been messy with the way I applied it, but I knew deep down that my glue dots would take me places, so I took it upon myself to prove them wrong. Through hard work and a dedication to perfecting my craft I have developed my art so much, that these glue dots are like my trademark or signature.
WH: Traditionally Samoan women painted Tapa and also made design tablets or “Upeti” which were carved. These were used as a type of woodblock to print tapa cloth. Is this where your ideas for carving came from?
AT: No. It came about while sitting in my backyard. I saw this plank of wood and I thought it would make a great garden
sculpture, so I decided to try and carve some pacific designs. From here I went onto carving wooden furniture in my house, and it wasn’t until I spent half the day carving on a table, that when I finished, I was surprised by the amount of hours I had spent carving it. Yet I really enjoyed it. So I thought I’d give carving a go in my final year of my bachelor’s degree here in Dunedin, and went on to teach myself further techniques and perfecting the way I carve. It is definitely hard work carving, sometimes my hands cramp up, but it’s truly rewarding when I see the finished product.
WH: Do you have any particular influences or artist’s you admire from the Pacific or other cultures?
AT: I have found inspiration from Michel Tuffery’s woodblocks that reveal his empathy with the patterns and symbols of traditional Samoan siapo and tatau designs, which are tied to a unique contemporary vision. Richard Gerhard “Swirls”, his techniques with using squeegee, and Judy Millar brush strokes with her use of swirl but also the mixed colours she uses.
I am heavily influenced by my Samoan heritage, the culture, the traditional Samoan dancing, the Fa’a Samoa (The Samoan way), and my husband’s Tongan heritage. The Tatau (tattooing) marks because my father holds one of the Samoan male traditional tatau called the Malofie. Last but not least my family and my Christianity are my main influence within my works.
WH: Many artists have used music as a catalyst and vehicle to provide inspiration and enhance the painting process. Has this ever been part of your practice?
AT: Samoan music is a major influence within my painting process. My inspiration is drawn from Wassily Kandinsky
music colour theory, where I had created my own colour theory but using Samoan instruments. Samoan music is a big part of who I am, singing Samoan hymns in church and at youth groups, singing in polyfest groups, but also hearing my parents sing all the time. I come from a very musical background where I used to play the piano for my church here in Dunedin at the age of 12 and 13.
WH: I have noticed there are references or a nod to aboriginal art elements or style in your work and you mention that the glue dots are now a “trademark” of your work. The dot matrix you use seem to reference pathways to something or somewhere. Can you tell us more about this?
AT: When I was in my final year at Unitec, I was studying patterns from all cultures. I was drawn to repetitive dot markings by Emily Kngwarreye because of her wild colours. I was amazed and wowed by her journey as an artist because she is one of the most prominent and successful artists in the history of contemporary indigenous Australian art. What resonated with me about aboriginal art was how the dot markings were used to symbolise their ancient stories or journeys.
The use of glue dots symbolises many different things for me, from story telling my journeys, to being musical dots which follow the hand movements of my swirls. When I was planning different ways to use the dot markings, I didn’t want to use a paint brush or thick pens to draw dots but instead wanted more. I wanted texture, something that can be felt, or should be felt by the viewer, so I thought of bubble wrap then followed that by the thought of a glue gun. So the next day I purchased a glue gun with glue sticks, and gave it go and it was exactly what was in my mind!
WH: Your work has been much admired and is starting to sell. What are your ambitions as an artist?
AT: My ambitions as an artist are I would love for all my paintings to sell, but most of all just to go into family homes and be admired and loved. As an artist there is no greater satisfaction than knowing my work has connected with people to the extent that they want a piece of my work in their lives. Money has never been the motivating factor; however it does help to fund my art dream. My ultimate goal is to one day have the opportunity to have a solo international exhibition to bring my pacific interpretation of arts to the world.
WH: What are your Hobbies?
AT: When I am not in studio painting, I love to play the piano and sing in my spare time. I love to play a game of volley ball as I used to coach the Junior & Senior A volley ball teams last year at Queens High School. I am also tutoring the Pacific Island Club at Otago Girls High school and teaching them cultural dancing for Polyfest which is coming up in September. I enjoy mentoring our young Pacific Island students so that one day they will be able to pass it down to the next generation as I was taught at a young age. I am very passionate about seeing young Pacific Islanders grow to be great leaders and have cultural leadership within the
Dunedin May 2017
Warwick Henderson in conversation with Ana Teofilo – May 2017