The Amituanui Family Lotu, from Ioka
It has been an exciting few years for emerging
artist Edith Amituanai (nee Sagapolu), an Elam
postgraduate student who had her first solo
exhibition only a few years ago at Anna Miles
Gallery in 2005.
Since then she has been curated into exhibitions
at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, St Paul
Street Gallery, the Auckland Art Gallery and the
Dateline exhibition of New Zealand art currently
touring Europe, as well as a solo show at
Wellington’s City Gallery in 2006.
And it is not just curators that have taken note.
Last year she earned recognition from one of
New Zealand’s most celebrated photographers,
receiving the inaugural Marti Friedlander
Photographic Award. “I particularly like the way
her photographic essays portray people and places
that reveal new Zealanders and all their diversity,”
said Friedlander in the award announcement.
And just last week it was announced that she has
been shortlisted for the prestigious Walters Prize
alongside such senior figures as Lisa Reihana, John
Reynolds and Peter Robinson.
Amituanai’s work draws on documentary
traditions with a particular interest in portraiture
and domestic interiors. The subjects of her
photographs are usually family or close friends,
who provide ways for her to explore her upbringing
as a New Zealand Samoan. Dejeuner, the
exhibition for which she has received the Walters
nomination, depicts Samoan New Zealander
professional rugby players based in France, as
well as the trophy-laden living rooms of their proud
parents back home. The images explore the idea
of a “third culture”, acknowledging the layers of
identity that develop from the migrations of
successive generations of Pacific people and the
provisionality of having a place called home.
The University of Auckland Art Collection took
an early interest in Amituanai’s work, purchasing
in 2004 two works from what has loosely become
known as her Ioka series. Taken before she married
into the Amituanai family, these are depictions of
what were then her boyfriend’s family, particularly
focusing on her now sister-in-law Ioka.
According to a statement issued by the 2008
Walters Prize jury, which included this writer, “Edith
Amituanai’s modest and generous photographs,
part formal portrait, part casual snapshot, reflect
her engagement with communal and personal
rituals, family intimacies and the subtle way
The Amituanai Family Lotu shows a private
nightly ritual, still practised in Samoa, where they
would get together for family time, to pray, read
the Bible in Samoan and catch up with each other
– Lotu literally translates as prayer. This is an
intimate view in which the photographer’s
relationship to the subject is essential.