Introducing our new Principal Adviser, Pacific Arts
17 Jun 2022
We are thrilled to announce that writer and actor Ali Foa’i has been appointed as Principal Adviser, Pacific Arts. This is a newly created role, supporting the continued successful delivery of the Pacific Arts Strategy 2018-2023.
Ali is a proud child of the Pacific, hailing from the villages of Mutalau in Niue, Fakaofo in Tokelau, Nukufetau in Tuvalu and Pago Pago in America Samoa.
Born and raised in West Auckland, Ali graduated from UNITEC’s School of Performing and Screen Arts as an actor, a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, and has been an arts practitioner for 15 years, involved in acting, writing and producing nationally and internationally.
When did you know you wanted to work in the arts?
I am a first-generation, New Zealand born Pacific Islander who was born into a family of educators and artists. I learnt at the feet of my grandparents, as they wove, sung, danced and spoke the languages of our ancestors, how important art and culture is to everyday life and its importance to our identity as Pacific Islanders. Forced performances at family gatherings enabled me to grow my passion for performing which led to formal training as an actor and an amazing journey in the arts.
Who do you consider a mentor or role model in the arts?
My family has always given me inspiration in the arts. I watched my uncle Opetaia Foa’i launch his career from a local husband-and-wife duo to a 10-piece band that travelled internationally; singing and dancing in Tokelauan and Tuvaluan – it opened my eyes to how the world could adore and appreciate Pacific contemporary music. My uncle Phillip Fuemana and Paul Fuemana proved that Niue/Aotearoa South Auckland music is world class, and taught me to dream as big as you can! My fabulous aunty/mentor Dianna Fuemana dragged me to theatres as a teen where I became immersed in the wonderous world of theatre - which became my spiritual home as an artist.
I also want to acknowledge our fearless Pacific elders and leaders of the industry, including Albert Wendt, Nathaniel Lees, Jay Laga’aia, Nina Nawalowalo, Erolia Ifopo, Oscar Kightley. Also, artists I’ve had the pleasure of working and learning from, including the late great Nancy Brunning, Fiona Collins, Lemi Ponifasio, Peter Tamasese, Igalese Ete, Tuiasau Uelese Petaia, Victor Rodger, Vela Manusaute, Anapela Polataivao, Lisa Reihana, Miria George, and the Urale Family to name a few!
What do you hope to achieve in your role?
I hope to keep building on the tireless work of the giants that have been instrumental to the development of Pacific Arts in Aotearoa. We must acknowledge our forebearers such as Albert Wendt, Marilyn Kolhase, Pele Walker, Dame Winnie Laban, Eteuati Ete, Anton Carter, Tigilau Ness, Makerita Urale and the Pacific Arts Komiti members over the years, and continue to strive to build Pacific Arts alongside Creative New Zealand with shared determination and alofa to make things better for our community.
I hope to be a strong advocate for dynamic opportunities for Pacific Arts in Aotearoa and internationally. I come from an arts background and have experienced the greatest challenge facing artists and arts practitioners in Aotearoa - career sustainability. After two years some of us would rather forget, I want to help create dynamic, transformational, aspirational, sustainable ways for artists to adapt and make art thrive all over the world.
What’s a recent arts experience that’s inspired you?
Yuki Kihara being the first Fa’afafine, first Pasifika and first Asian to represent Aotearoa at the 59th iteration of La Biennale di Venezia in herstory. I have admired Yuki’s career for many years with the upmost respect for her unflinching dedication to her ground-breaking art. Being part of the Rainbow Pasifika family myself, Yuki’s astounding work and bravery has always resonated with me, leading the way for Pasifika queer artists to decolonise the world and challenge mainstream thinking, while being unapologetically queer!
If you could be a colour, which colour would you be?
Gold. I believe we, as Pacific people, are absolute gold in the world. Globally, we may reside in small islands, but our ocean is the largest and our hearts, talents, minds and genius are golden gifts – we are GOLD.