‘ReSpect’ opens at BCA Gallery
The latest and perhaps most talked-about exhibition by artist Nanette Lela’ulu, titled ‘ReSpect’, opened on Tuesday evening at the BCA Gallery.
‘ReSpect’ is a series of portraits and the seed of the idea for the exhibition was inspired by those in Lela’ulu’s life that she holds respect for. The subjects of the portraits for this show included a number of Lela’ulu’s contemporaries. On Samoan artist and sculptor John Ioane, Lela’ulu commented, “I love what he does – taking something from the earth and turning it into something else.” Samoan/Japanese contemporary artist Shigeyuki Kihara is an artist whom Lela’ulu particularly admires. “Yuki does amazing work. On Facebook I’ve been watching what she’s putting on there. These are really fast, quick but really thought-provoking images and statements that she is putting out there.” New Zealand artist Reuben Paterson was chosen after Lela’ulu met him here during the Pacific Arts Association symposium, held here in 2010. “I loved his heart. He was such a passionate and ‘straight-to-the-emotion’ person – I thought, ‘yes, I’ve made the right choice here too.”
Perhaps the most controversial painting in the show is the portrait of Owner and Curator of BCA Gallery, Ben Bergman. The portrait of Bergman, portraying him mostly naked on a throne with a strategically-placed ceremonial pigs head, has elicited many responses from the public. Bergman himself, who in his opening speech commented, “I didn’t actually see ‘that’ painting until yesterday!” offered that Lela’ulu was perhaps making a statement about the way we perceive ourselves and others and whether or not perception equals truth. “If we allow ourselves to be afraid of perception and we adhere to preconceived notions of artistic merit then we are indeed on a slippery slope… After all, is perception reality? Irving Berlin put it this way: Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it.” Lela’ulu added, “With Ben… what he has here does provide such an amazing place for people to talk about things like that through their art. With his portrait – with all of them – I kind of held them in [my heart]. Just thinking about who they are, what they’ve done and the work that they’ve done and trying to take it from that place rather than a ‘thought’ place. That was really important for me to do that to see what my thoughts and feelings were about people.” Lela’ulu says this more intuitive approach is a departure from her usual approach in the creation of her paintings.
Despite the controversy, the paintings were well received by the public who attended the opening and in the end it was Lela’ulu’s remarkable talent as a painter that stole the show. ‘ReSpect’ runs until May 18 at the BCA Gallery. -Ngariki Ngatae
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