In Kalisolaite 'Uhila's experiential performances, the artist is not always in the forefront; he may be completely invisible, disguised as a homeless person on the streets, or inaccessible, locked inside a container with a piglet. In such works, the artist seeks to provoke dialogue about alienation and invisibility. Born in Tonga and raised in New Zealand, 'Uhila combines his knowledge of the two cultures to present new perspectives to his audience.Read More
Recurring throughout 'Uhila's performances is an identification with marginalised or unheard populations. Mo'ui Tukuhausia ('life set aside' in Tongan), for example, involved the artist living in self-imposed homelessness. The performance was first iterated in 2012 as a part of What do you mean, we?, a group exhibition at Te Tuhi, Pakuranga, that—as its curator, Bruce E Phillips, describes—examined 'the psychology of prejudice'. 'Uhila lived and slept around the gallery's grounds for two weeks. During this performance period he experienced hostility from the public—visitors would sometimes dehumanise him, referring to him as 'that Thing!' in one instance, and spitting at him in another—as well as displays of goodwill and friendship. At Te Tuhi, 'Uhila solely relied on food donations from locals; the process started slowly, but grew exponentially as the public's understanding of his project increased. By the end of the performance, the gallery was receiving more food than he could eat, and the rest was sent to the Auckland City Mission. Nevertheless, 'Uhila's confrontations with the police during the performance—three times in two weeks—revealed institutional bias toward homeless people. Even though 'Uhila had a letter from Te Tuhi that authorised his loitering in the gallery premises, an officer tore it up and ended his performance a day earlier than had been planned.
In 2014, 'Uhila was selected as a finalist in the Walters Prize for Mo'ui Tukuhausia. Repeating and extending the performance at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and living there for three months, he brought further attention to the living conditions and treatment of homeless people. With high rates of homelessness the city, Uhila's performance sparked conversations about human rights and legislature to regulate the ongoing housing crisis.
In his other works, 'Uhila draws from his Tongan heritage to connect the past and present as well as the individual and global. Ongo mei Moana (2015), staged as a part of The Performance Arcade, Wellington, saw the artist 'conduct' the sea at Oriental Bay six hours each day for five days. The piece, inspired by the movement of the ocean, treated the great body of water not as a divider but as a bridge that initiates meetings between disparate locations and peoples. At the same time, 'Uhila paid homage to his family's history of navigators, incorporating Tongan attire and ceremonial traditions into the performance.
'Uhila's application of Tongan culture in his performances offers alternatives to European perspectives. Pigs in the Yard (2011), for example, considers the differences between the Tongan and European perceptions of the pig. In 'Uhila's birthplace, as in many Pacific cultures, the pig is regarded as a sacred animal, its meat reserved for special occasions such as weddings and funerals. In his iteration of Pigs in the Yard at the Māngere Arts Centre in 2011, 'Uhila locked himself and the audience behind fences while a group of pigs roamed carelessly in the courtyard. In the iteration at Aotea Square, Auckland, in the same year, the artist shared a container with a piglet for a week.
While many of 'Uhila's works are informed by Tongan traditions, they are also in conversation with the canon of performance art. Mo'ui Tukuhausia, for instance, is reminiscent of One Year Performance 1981–1982 (Outdoor Piece), a performance by the Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh in which he spent a year on the streets of New York; while living with a piglet in Pigs in the Yard references Joseph Beuys' three days spent with a wild coyote in I Like America and America Likes Me (1974).
'Uhila received his Bachelor of Visual Arts and Master of Performance and Media Arts with First Class Honours from Auckland University of Technology in 2010 and 2016, respectively. He received the Visual Arts Award for Pigs in the Yard at The Auckland Fringe 2011 Awards. The artist lives and works in Māngere, Auckland.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2018
Anna-Marie White is Curator at The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū in Nelson, New Zealand and most recently a member of the jury that selected this year’s Walters Prize nominees: Simon Denny, Maddie Leach, Luke Willis Thompson and Kalisolaite ‘Uhila. Named in honour of the New Zealand modernist painter Gordon Walters and...
It's 10am on a sticky day and Kalisolaite 'Uhila has just finished work. We meet for coffee near the intersection of Ponsonby and Karangahape Roads, not long after his night shift at Lion Breweries' East Tāmaki factory. His job is to stand on the production line straightening up Stella bottles so the process doesn't stall.
We are sitting in the warmth of the place artist Kalisolaite 'Uhila calls his lounge. It's a nice sunny day in Albert Park, behind Auckland Art Gallery. 'Uhila - known as Ite - has been sleeping rough for the past three months in Auckland's CBD as part of his project as a Walters Prize finalist, an experience where time slowed into nothing and he...