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Arts initiative giving disabled Pasifika opportunities to develop

Friday 13 May 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Pacific Islands, Regional


Arts initiative giving disabled Pasifika opportunities to develop
Pelenakeke Brown and Pati Umaga Photo: Creative NZ

Two New Zealand-based Pasifika artists are leading a new arts initiative called the Toa Residency to increase support for Pasifika disabled people wanting to enter the arts industry.

Musician Pati Umaga and inter-disciplinary artist Pelenakeke Brown said the residency would give the artists an opportunity to collaborate digitally and allow them to have sovereignty over their identity.

Standing up for the rights of others runs in his blood. His grandfather Pau Umaga was a pivotal part of the Mau movement that led Samoa to gain its independence in 1962.

In 2005, Umaga suffered an accident that left him paralysed. However, his activism and musical skills has only spurred him further to advocate for the disability community.

He said the arts allows the community to have control of their narrative.

"I've been really using music as a way of, I guess, forming our own narratives as disabled artists and disabled musicians," he said.

"For so long other people have taken our stories and used it for themselves and I'm really passionate about us owning our own narratives and through the arts we can do that."

Umaga hopes the residency will remove barriers for the Pasifika disability community from participating in the arts space.

Hopes that budding artists will take inspiration from others

Inspired by other Pasifika artists while growing up, Pelenakeke Brown's work combines art, writing, and performance. Her career has been recognised internationally, having spent six years living and performing in New York.

Due to the pandemic Brown is back in New Zealand and is honoured to co-lead the Toa Residency.

Pelenakeke Brown
Pelenakeke Brown Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele

She hoped that plenty of Pasifika disabled artists take inspiration from others.

"One way I figured out how to be an artist is that I looked at other artists who I wanted to be like or have careers like them.

"I would look at the opportunities that had and then kind of followed in their footsteps," she said.

"There's a lot of disabled artists making really cool art so I think looking at what other people are doing and trying to connect with them is a really great place to start."

When it comes to their development, Pati Umaga said the disabled community has had to rely on others within the health and social sector to make decisons on their behalf for far too long and wants that to change.

"Give our disabled people the opportunities to lead the change rather than being led," he said.

"For so long we've had other people doing things for us, to us, and they try and do it with us, but in the end it's us leading the change that will actually provide the real point of difference."

Thriving through arts

Lusi Faiva is an award-winning performing artist, who has won several awards for her outstanding contribution to the arts sector.

Lusi Faiva
Photo: Creative NZ

She feels that most care providers often overlook the disabled community's decision-making capabilities.

Faiva said the arts have enabled her to thrive as a leader.

She said the start of her arts journey wasn't an easy one but today she is a highly respected performer and sits on the Artistic Direction Panel at a leading professional performance company, Touch Compass.

"Since I was young I imagined myself performing on stage. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to have any formal training opprtunities because of my physical disability and being non-verbal.

"I think it's good to get some disability leadership so that would help the company to bring new opportunities for those who want to go into the art sector. I must say that I'm grateful to have a good career as a Pacific professional artist and I am enjoying my new role on the artistic direction panel."

For more information about the Toa Residency go to the [ Creative NZ website].