‘Inspired by the metaphorical depth of our language’
31 May 2021
We spoke with Lana Lopesi, Editor-in-Chief for Creative New Zealand’s Pacific Art Legacy Project, in recognition of Samoan Language Week.
Lana (Satapuala, Siumu) is a writer and researcher based in Tāmaki Makaurau, and is currently the Interim Director of The Pantograph Punch where she was Editor-in-Chief from 2017–2019. Lana is also the author of False Divides (2018) and Bloody Woman (2021) and handed in her PhD last year.
What has it been like working on the Pacific Arts Legacy Project?
It has been an absolute honour to work on the Pacific Arts Legacy Project. For some, the project is their first ever opportunity to self-author a part of their story and the importance of that cannot be understated. This project, and these stories will have an enduring importance and I’m grateful for being a part of that work.
Tell us a moment where your cultural identity became a defining moment in your life?
I can’t say that my cultural identity ever hasn’t been a defining part of who I am. It impacts how I see the world in implicit and unspeakable ways, but it also defines how the world sees me.
Being around other Pacific and Indigenous artists of all kinds that taught me that there is a real power in leaning into your specificity and being open to that changing over time. When you find that place and accept it, it can be an unlimited source of creative potential.
How does language and/or culture help form your artform today?
I’ve spent the last decade writing about Pacific art, and it is an absolute privilege to be able to amplify the amazing creative work of our communities for a living. It’s not that I intentionally set out to do that mahi, but rather I just follow the creative work that inspires me and makes me feel something, it’s just a coincidence that a lot of that great work is by Pacific artists. But I also think a large part of that work is driven by an innate responsibility to uplift our creative communities by giving their work the culturally informed, critical consideration they deserve.
What’s a phrase or proverb in the Samoan language that speaks to you?
I’ve always loved the alagaupu ‘E sui faiga ae tumau fa’avae’ which is ‘The form changes, but the underlying principles remain’, which recognises that expressions of culture and creativity change over time, over generations and over space but the central tenets remain firm and stable. It gives everyone space to find their own place within fa’a Sāmoa, and encourages creative innovation.
What is a memory of using the Samoan language you’d like to share?
I’m definitely a gagana learner on what I’m sure will be a lifelong journey, but I am constantly amazed and inspired by the metaphorical depth of our language.
How will you be celebrating this week?
This year our language week celebrations will centre around our two tamaiti and the school communities that we’re a part of at A’oga Fa’aSamoa and Mua i Malae, Richmond Rd. The week starts with a flag raising ceremony and is filled with performances and opportunities for our tamaiti to share their culture with their wider school community. We’re so lucky to be in Aotearoa and still have these cultural spaces that nourish our babies and our communities more widely.
In saying that, I like to think that every week is a chance to celebrate Samoan language even if it’s just in small ways, speaking as much as you can, even if like me it will be full of mistakes.
Who are some of your favourite Samoan artists?
I have always been endlessly inspired by the art of a whole sweep of tamaitai Samoa, so many that it would be impossible to name. But a few that have been taking up a lot of space in my mind lately are Teuane Tibbo, Momoe Malietoa Von Reiche, Tusiata Avia, and Ria Masae.
For more information on activities or resources on Samoan Language Week, check out the Ministry of Pacific Peoples website