Christopher Ulutupu is a contemporary New Zealand artist of Samoan, Niuean, and German descent, whose films and performance-based works address diaspora and the effects of colonial narratives.Read More
Often featuring the environment as a backdrop, Ulutupu's work reconsiders stereotypical depictions of Pacific peoples while prompting questions about tradition and identity in a contemporary context.
Ulutupu's single-channel video Manaonao (2011) reflects the artist's longstanding interest in the collaborative nature of film production. The work opens with a woman singing, as a young boy drags an overhead projector into an assembly hall. Attached to the projector is a disco ball, which reflects sparkling lights onto the woman and the band as they perform on stage. The boy appears to wait for a date.
Manaonao closes with a scene of the boy dragging the apparatus elsewhere. The video merges performance (the band) and subplot (the boy) with the technical aspects of video production. Ulutupu has stated that the work marked 'the beginning in terms of my art practice... (in that it) informed how I would work with other people in my future works', emphasising the processes and memories that emerge during collective projects.
Several of Ulutupu's work feature Lulu, a fictional character who replaces the 'dusky maiden' archetype as a modern Samoan woman, typically dressed in 1970s attire. Lulu is a singer whose performances challenge historical representations of Pacific peoples and their relationship with nature, and often appears outdoors or in urban settings.
On Ulutupu's solo exhibition Dreaming of Lulu at Wellington's Enjoy Contemporary Art Space in 2019, Hannah Amundsen wrote that Lulu 'normalises the hybridisation of the Pākehā and Polynesian worlds', allowing for a modernised understanding of Polynesian identity.
Ulutupu examines the lingering effects of colonialism through images of landscape, in particular referring to early 20th-century landscape photography and picturesque postcards of the Pacific. In The Romantic Picturesque (Ladies) (2016), five white women replace the dusky maiden in a waterside landscape. With their backs to the camera, the women are absorbed in their own time and leisure—with two seen reading, another two seated on the ground, and the fifth wandering towards the water, before returning to her companions.
The Romantic Picturesque: The Postcard Trilogy (2016–2018) similarly takes place in nature, staging performances within landscapes. The first in the trilogy, titled Into the arms of my coloniser (2016), began as an exploration of the complexities of intercultural dating. In Do you still need me? (2017), miscommunication and dissonance form central topics.
Christopher Ulutupu's work has been presented in both solo and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include Christopher Ulutupu, Jhana Millers, Wellington (2022); A Room in Time Screening: The Romantic Picturesque, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, Christchurch (2021); Dreaming of Lulu, Enjoy Contemporary Art Space , Wellington (2019).
Group exhibitions include Self by others, Jhana Millers, Wellington (2021); More than all the ocean between us, Artspace, Sydney (2019); The Tomorrow People, Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi, Wellington (2017).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2022