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Media Release • 11 May 16

Siu i Moana: Reaching Across the Ocean

Siu i Moana: Reaching Across the Ocean presents collaborative ngatu (Tongan barkcloth paintings) by Maori/New Zealand artist Robin White and Tongan artist Ruha Fifita, which narrate powerful and moving present-day stories of migration and patterns of connection across Oceania and beyond.

The exhibition comprises eight recently-painted and large-scale ngatu, the largest of which spans a monumental twenty four metres in length. The ngatu have been produced by the artists in collaboration with the women of Haveluloto village on Tongatapu Island, Tonga. In accordance with local custom, the Tongan woman have softened and beaten the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree into small pieces, which are joined and pasted together, then rubbed over patterned rubbing blocks to form huge sheets of dyed and patterned paper skin ready to be painted.

White and Fifita describe their ngatu as hybrid works that integrate ancestral patterns and design with contemporary imagery and narratives. This is characterised by the use of traditional dyes and painting techniques to depict ideas and stories drawn from current ways of living.

‘The work of Robin White and Ruha Fifita demonstrates the powerful versatility and surprising modernity embedded in many ancient art forms,’ said Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV. ‘Through their collaboration with Tongan artists and craftspeople, White and Fifita have added to the artistic vocabulary of traditional ngatu and moved the art form into an exciting new territory of contemporary art and design.’

Highlights from the exhibition include Siu i Moana, the ngatu series from which this exhibition takes its name, which traces the migratory pathways of the Pacific. A triptych of maps that trace the patterns of migration along an underwater volcanic ridge that joins Tonga and New Zealand, Siu i Moana acknowledges the centrality of the sea to life in the Pacific and celebrates the practice of reciprocity and exchange that characterises Oceania.

At an incredible twenty four metres long, the largest of the works, Seen on the Avenue, depicts a road that is fringed with Norfolk Pines which leads from the King’s palace in Tongatapu to the royal tombs. The work also makes reference to Ben Gurion Avenue in Haifa, Israel, which leads in a straight line from the shores of the Mediterranean to the foot of Mt Carmel, drawing a connection between different people and their traditions.

Siu i Moana: Reaching Across the Ocean will be on display at NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, from 10 June — 11 September 2016. Entry is free.


This exhibition forms part of an in-depth focus on Pacific art and culture at the NGV in 2016. NGV International will also host two other major exhibitions of contemporary Pacific art, Greg Semu: The Raft of the Tagata Pasifika (People of the Pacific), an exhibition of powerful photographic works that restages two iconic European history paintings with a cast of twenty-two indigenous actors from the Cook Islands, and Lisa Reihana’s in pursuit of Venus, a live-action video work that restages the French neo-classical panoramic wallpaper Les Sauvages de la mer Pacifique (1804‒05).

These will be presented alongside Art of the Pacific, an extensive collection display which honours the customary shields, figurative sculptures and masks, as well as a dynamic range of body ornaments, encompassing contemporary Polynesian lei, headdresses and jewellery, barkcloths and photographs of Samoan tatau.



Contemporary Pacific Art and Community Day

Sat 11 Jun, 11am – 3pm

Join in a celebration of Melbourne’s vibrant Pacific community and experience contemporary Pacific culture and art with music, performances, workshops and talks led by international and local artists and curators in this special program marking the opening of exhibitions Siu i Moana: Reaching Across the Ocean, Greg Semu: The Raft of the Tagata Pasifika (People of the Pacific), Lisa Reihana: in Pursuit of Venus and display of the NGV Collection, Art of the Pacific.

Cost Free

Venue NGV International