Raymond Sagapolutele is an Aotearoa-born Sāmoan artist with family ties to the villages of Fatuvalu in Savai'i and Saluafata in Upolu, Samoa. Sagapolutele picked up the camera in 2003 and began a self-taught photography journey that would see him work with editorial publications Back to Basics and Rip It Up as a staff photographer as well as submissions to the NZ Herald and Metro Magazine.
Sagapolutele has exhibited images in a range of group and solo exhibitions both locally and internationally. Sagapolutele honed his style of documentary street photography as one of several photographers in the locally formed and internationally connected graffiti creative collective known as TMD. Sagapolutele is a founding member of the ManaRewa art collective based at Nathan Homestead in Manurewa and alongside senior members helps to tutor and support the local arts community.
Sagapolutele completed his Masters in Visual Arts passing with first-class honours and received the Deans Award for Excellence in Postgraduate study from AUT. Sagapolutele was also showcased in the 2019 Wallace Arts Award and a finalist in the 2019 Glaister Ennor Graduate Art Awards.
For Sagapolutele the camera has become a vital part of his ability to reconnect his art to his heritage as a diasporic Samoan with cultural ties that link him to the history of the Pacific and the lands within that vast ocean. The camera is how his visual language is given a voice, the method that forms his oratory and connects to the cherished and old Samoan tradition of Fagogo (storytelling).
'The narrative may change but the intent is always the same - honest dialogue with the viewer. My style of photography is based on observation with a little bit of the unconventional, this is not to confuse or frustrate but it is a method by which I empty my head of all the stories contained within.'
Sagapolutele was part of the Nomadic Art Gallery's digital exhibition "Alienation". Contextualisation of his work within the exhibition theme:
"When the work is by one of New Zealand's greatest storytellers, we couldn't do otherwise than letting the artists' words do the work:
Climate of Change Study #3 & 4 ( first and last work as shown here):
"I've really enjoyed creating this series and the driver behind it was trying to make sense of the complex conversation around retaining the agency of who you are and who you represent in your art practice. To make sense of this I framed this around the learning phase many artists engage in when developing their art.
From my experience, when you are developing your practice you become hyper aware of the world and it's influences, in art, your friends, your contemporaries - your friends who are also art contemporaries, it's an amazing process. I'm still there, probably always will.
Along the way I have rediscovered the alofa and sheer power of my Samoan heritage/culture on not just my art but the context of how this has shaped my lived experiences. Beyond the narrative of identity, this is more about conversing through your art in a second artistic language that has always been part of my vocabulary but through a lack of understanding being left discouraged about using this voice. The muting of voices in the wider artistic arena, an arena built around art schools, council run art spaces, dealer galleries, and a Palagi-centric art market offers a token soap box in a speakers corner for other voices that leaves many feeling like a side show and definitions the main event.
In Aotearoa we have seen the value and reward of listening to the voices of indigenous artists, Tangata whenua, they show the way forward and we are all the better for hearing it.
For those of us from other minority cultures, don't make us sacrifice the gifts of our ancestors to meet the expectations of the same as what has always been. That loss, that lack of vision will only have us creating more of the same as everyone else - listen to our natural voices, give them a chance and the rewards will be something amazing. I can't offer up any proof of what that looks or sounds like but that's not because I'm full of shit, I just don't know. I'm still learning to sing my song with a voice I forgot I had but I can dream of what that would sound like.
Alofa and respect."
Climate of change (second work as shown here):
"Open your eyes, look into the mirror. Own what you have become”
The realisation that ego does not make for a long lasting partnership when it comes to creating work came late into my practice. You can make work driven by your desire to stake your claim but I learned that reward came from connections and relationships built over time and vital in the process of creating my art. That timeline spans my life and everyone who has added colour and alofa over that space in time. I am responsible to them to use this time and that space honestly and how I navigate this process is the thinking part of my art.
My heritage as a Samoan has taught me the value of being part of the whole, the joy of community and responsibility that comes from tautua, service to people other than yourself. What does this mean when it comes to my art? It means thinking beyond my expectations and opening up the work to discussion and critique by everyone. Learning and being grateful for that shared knowledge.
These ideals do not make it easy to create work that's digestible, principles I am learning and coming to terms with around being Samoan, Samoan in diaspora, Samoan as part of the wider Moana and Samoan living in service to and as a guest of our cousins here in Aotearoa makes for a different world view on art making. My ancestors are heavy on my mind and imbued in my work, they check my ego and they remind me of my tautua to their sacrifice and time. I may be contemporary but I'll eventually join them and this contemporary world will be the past and the future may or may not see a lesson in it.
Do I bleach my bones, sacrifice the vision gifted by family and bow to my ego? I don't know if I could stomach that now - the image I would see reflected in that mirror would probably break my heart.
Alofa and respect."
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