I feel like facebook stalking is just a social norm now. I remember coming across Sione Monu’s art on FB and thinking that’s so cool, how can I see more? Before I knew it I was rummaging through google image searches, surfacing at Monu’s Instagram.
Sione’s series entitled ‘Canberra Family Portraits’ really stood out to me. I come from a huge mix bag family and the idea of trying to get them in front of a camera to let me take their portraits, without incident seems impossible. But not even that, the adornments in the series are really buzzy to gawk at. I wondered really hard (with squinty eyes) how they were constructed. You can’t really tell at face value, and the works themselves seem really delicate, clearly made with some finesse. So naturally I wanted to know the magic trick…
Last month when Sione was in NZ we did some IRL twitter meet ups at Reina Suttons boss exhibition opening at MAC and got to hang out in a non Sa vs Tonga competitive way. It was pretty cool to hear bout his work and what moves him as an artist and Insta bomber. So in honour of how much the crew here FAFSWAG loved these works… we got out our knee pads and begged Sione if we could share his work with the rest of our Saute Okalani peeps.
Enjoy FAFSWAG interview with Pacific artist Sione Monu
I love the one of my brother Bruce. His is the lei in the shape of breasts. Bruce is the most stereotypical ‘poly teenager’ of us all.
What is your background as an artist?
I like to experiment with all mediums. But major in painting at university.
How would you define your practice?
Experimental and explorative.
What is the title of this series and what is it about?
It’s called ‘Canberra Family Portraits.’ It’s basically a series of portraits of everyone in my house. It’s about identity and nostalgia.
What inspired your use and creation of adornments for this series?
I’ve never made traditional leis before nor did I know the history and context of them but I’ve always admired the artistry and beauty of them whenever I saw pictures of them adorning family on Facebook. A quick Wikipedia search told me that in Polynesia they are made with the intent to decorate a person for an emotional reason—usually as a sign of affection. Having no experience making these adornments, I improvised and used sticky tape and the plants from my backyard to make them.
What motivated you to work with family members for this series?
I made one portrait a day, so I would collect the plants in the morning and make a one lei, then take the picture in the afternoon light. I made the leis with one family member in mind each day. So each designs would be inspired by each of them. It wasn’t easy convincing some of my younger siblings to pose for me. A lot of chocolate and coins were supplied to get their portraits taken.
Do you have a favourite portrait in the series and why is it your favourite?
I love the one of my brother Bruce. His is the lei in the shape of breasts. Bruce is the most stereotypical ‘poly teenager’ of us all. His into his rugby, nesian music, kind of a HK (in our household we use HK as meaning try hard or act tough) anyway, I had fun making his lei as feminine and passive as I could and I feel his portrait brought out a more sensitive part of Bruce that we don’t usually see in our household.
How has your work been received by your family?
It’s a competition for the most likes with them. Even my mum is like “mine has the most like guys! I win!” it’s really funny to watch. But they were really surprised I think by their portraits, in a good way, seeing themselves in a very different way from their usual Instagram selfies and Facebook pics.
What are some of the challenges or benefits of being a Pacific artist?
I think my sense of identity is very strong which can only be seen as a benefit. Even though I grew up away from the traditions and the community I think that sense of being Tongan and that loaded history of my ancestors is a huge driving force for me as an artist and even just as a person.
Does your sexuality have any relevance in your practice?
I feel it has but to what extent I don’t know. I usually make works through experimentation of materials then I usually think of a subject or image I want to present with the materials. Sometimes my sexuality influences works most of the time it doesn’t. It’s a hard question to answer because I’ve never looked at my sexuality as something ‘different’ or ‘other’ I just accepted it as fact. Maybe it’s something I’ll explore more in the future, with a little more than my 21 years life experience under my belt haha.
How do you think the broader Pacific community respond to your work?
The reaction I got was supportive. I got a lot of questions about how I made the leis and if they can get their portraits done. I think pacific islanders celebrate creativity.
What are your thoughts about collaboration?
I’d love to do collaborative work. I’ve always been solitary but I think working with other artists would be good for me.
How do you see your practice in the future?
I’d love to explore animation! I love Hayao Miyazki and view his films as the highest art form.
What inspires you as an artist?
Everything and anything, but recently, other Pacific Islander artists. After my recent trip to Auckland I got to connect with so many inspiring poly artists. It really opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.
What is coming up for you in the near future as an artist?
I’ve stopped my studies in Australia’s capital and I’m moving to Auckland next month. I’ve $12 in my account and a pocket full of dreams. I will be residing in the beautiful town of Mangere where you will find me on my daily morning walks up Mangere Mountain. I will find a job, probably at the local supermarket or McDonalds. I will make art when I’m settled in.