Reina Sutton & Jarcinda Stowers-Ama | Artists, Southside Arts Festival

A range of workshops were the highlight of this year’s Southside Arts Festival. Dione Joseph spoke to artists Reina Sutton and Jarcinda Stowers-Ama about how contemporary arts workshops are a window to engaging, enlivening and enriching the community.

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Southside Arts Festival Urbanesia encompasses all aspects of a true fiesta replete with performances, installations, exhibitions and of course workshops. But as any of the curators or artists will argue these workshops are more than just a chance to dabble in some crafty options – these are platforms to experience and engage with culture in a manner that revere the process as much as the product.

Sisters Reina and Molana Sutton are contemporary jewellery designers who hail from Malaita, Solomon Islands and are proud of the fact their jewellery showcases both who they are today as well as where they come from.

“Back in the Islands we are very much still in touch with traditional ways of life,” says Reina Sutton. “Sure we have city folk but people still live in the bush and by the sea and off the land – and that connection is something that’s very special and is very much alive.”

So much so that today while you still find practices of traditional body adornments popular in the Solomon Islands there will also be options to use new resources and even recycled materials to connect with traditional designs and art practices.

“What we do is not limited by a particular frame of time,” explains Reina. “Our work comes from a wealth of knowledge and skill and often the difficulty is people don’t recognize how much mahi has gone into it and the value of what they have.”

It’s a similar position that Jarcinda Stowers-Ama argues in regards to valuing the work of the Pacific Mamas who run weaving workshops regularly at the Pacific centre and were also part of this year’s Henderson village.

“So many people when referring to the Pacific Mamas or any of the women individually see them as ‘crafters’ and while yes they are ‘mamas’ which is an affectionate and loving term, they’re experts in their field and have been recognised internationally for their work.”

“You can just imagine how I feel when people look at their work and exclaim ‘oh isn’t it just adorable’ or ‘aren’t they such good crafters’ it just makes me feel that people have a completely different perception of how much work and effort goes into the making of these pieces and how they are living pieces of our culture but also of the space and story in which they were made.”

“For us weaving is about connection to family and community,” says Jarcinda.

“The mamas often joke the weaving is the by-product of the gossip and the cuppa teas and getting together – it’s not the sort of thing you do by yourself so for the mamas a lot of them come from the islands and the workshops we run are pan pacific so even if they don’t speak the same language it’s the weaving and sharing –  whether it’s a new design or a pattern or deciphering a set of different knots – that’s the language we share.”

As part of Urbanesia this year the Sutton sisters and the Pacific Mamas ran jewellery making and pacific weaving workshops and alongside their other festival neighbours including drummers, mime artists and spoken word poet these highly skilled and talented groups are excited at the opportunities for broadening the conversation with the larger Auckland community over the next few years as the festival continues to grow.