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Olivia Taouma | Director, Southside Arts Festival

Southside Arts Festival director Olivia Taouma tells Dione Joseph how this year’s ‘Urbanesia’ festival is breaking regional boundaries in innovative ways.

Taouma says the festival is about celebrating our Pasifika and Maori artists in Auckland in a massive trans-regional festival of visual art, theatre, dance, fashion and much more.

“We are the world’s largest Polynesian city but equally we are also world’s leader in high quality and innovative contemporary art and that deserves to be celebrated across the city.”

The 2014 Southside Arts Festival has four urban villages that offer a range of different activities, workshops, events and exhibitions to the communities in Otara, Mangere, Henderson and Takapuna. Together they are bringing the month of November alive with an extravaganza of arts and culture connecting the various town centres with their growing creative communities.

The decision to take Southside outside the silos of South Auckland is a positive shift and offers hope for diversifying the conception of Auckland as a largely mono-cultural landscape.

“Since Auckland became a super city the council has re-structured how we make our festivals accessible to audiences across Auckland,” explains Taouma.

“We’ve taken what began in Manukau and slowly spread out to the rest of South Auckland and then to the West and now we’re finally crossing into the Shore. We have generations of different Pasifika communities who call the Shore home and this is the first time they will get to perform on their own turf – that’s something special.”

While the Festival is making leaps in trans-regional access, the range of artists that are involved in this year’s line-up is equally impressive. Ranging from emerging to mid-career and internationally established artists Urbanesia is not shy of bring together a wide and varied range of sophisticated artisans and crafts folk to the local hood.

“We have some amazing established Maori and pacific choreographers including outstanding Samoan choreographer Parris Goebel who performed her outstanding hip-hop dance work last weekend at Vodafone Events Centre to standing ovations; this weekend Cult Couture presents the acclaimed Lindah Lepou’s AITU a pacific couture multi-media experience at Mangere arts centre and next week we see Kila Kokonut Krew bring My name is Pilitome to Henderson and we have MUSIKA in the final week at Takapuna by the incredibly talented Opeloge Ah Sam who brings together Samoan music and jazz – and that’s just the beginning. We have dozens of artists bringing different acts and workshops and it promises to have something for everyone to enjoy.”

If you missed the magic at Otara last weekend don’t fret – one of the ingenious designs of Southside is that every urban village will have a free stage and offering free music by local roving artists: dance group Fine Fatale, spoken word poets from Niu Navigations, muso Stks, DJ’s Spell and TDK and the much celebrated street art master Allen Villi.

“Each of the villages have a different flavour and we’re very proud of that,” says Taouma. “We are a modern cosmopolitan city and last week in Otara you would have seen hip-hop and battle cry and Tongan comedy pack out the house – this week at Mangere there’s high-level fashion, body adornment, textile displays with a showcase of leading music-makers and visual artists including The Side Step Quintet and Rosanna Raymond’s SaVAge K’lub. Not to mention the fashion offerings including the fashion market, emerging designer show and AITU.”

“The following weekend out in Henderson our focus is on creating a whanau day with a big outdoor stage, lots of theatre and dance including our leading Maori contemporary dance group Atamira and a range of free workshops including the chance to learn how to weave and drum!

“And finally, our last village in Takapuna is orientated around the lake with tons of free music including the chance to see Pukepuke ‘O Tonga perform some of the traditional Tongan dances that have been handed down over generations and is an incredible cultural offering to the community. You could also learn the art of Tuvalu Crochet (imagine that!) and enjoy the chance to make something special in a Soloman Island jewellery making workshop – not to mention there will be plenty of food on offer as well – isn’t that a feast!”

The festival highlights that diversity of Pasifika culture and with an increasing number of Tongan and Fijian artists showcasing their work and skills at the four urban villages there seem to be few excuses for the metropolis not to turn out in style to enjoy the local flavours.

“We are at a moment in Auckland’s history where Pasifika and Maori art is increasingly becoming accessible to all our communities across the region – the cultural ghettos of the past are about to crumble and that’s why it’s very exciting. Auckland as a city, as a community, as a leader in contemporary arts deserves to be celebrated – and that’s what Urbanesia does – we celebrate our art and our people and do it in style.”

https://www.thebigidea.nz/news/interviews/2014/nov/153228-taking-southside-outside