By: Dionne Christian
When Pascal Atiga-Bridger decided to hold his first art exhibition, he knew exactly who he wanted to work with.
It wasn’t other artists – although plenty have inspired him – nor high-profile curators and writers. Instead, Atiga-Bridger went back to the Papakura primary school he and his four children attended and where, no doubt, his grandchildren (five so far) will one day go too.
Now his paintings are on display at Papakura Art Gallery in a show called Tautua alongside flags designed, made and printed by 24 Red Hill School pupils aged 11 to 13.
Atiga-Bridger says he tries to live by the Samoan proverb “tautua nei mo sou manuia a taeao – serve now for a better tomorrow” and wants to make art which involves and strengthens the community.
“I think it’s important to give back to the community that raised you,” he says.
In Atiga-Bridger’s paintings, the red, white and blue of the Union Jack is replaced with colours from the Maori flag and those of Samoa, Niue, Tahiti and Papua New Guinea to symbolise with Britain through colonisation.
“I want my works to reflect the diversity that many families have within our community,” he says.
Red Hill School principal Charlotte Castle and teacher Ruth Kereopa enthusiastically accepted Atiga-Bridger’s offer to involve their pupils.
They say they’re strong believers in the importance of children having outside-the-classroom learning experiences and exposure to a wide range of cultural activities.
Initial plans were for a smaller group of children to make flags which reflect their own identities but so many put their names forward that it was opened to a larger group.
Atiga-Bridger ran workshops at the school and Papakura Art Gallery which the youngsters visited to see where their work would be displayed.
Castle says most of the children had never been to an art gallery: “The potential for growth was enormous so we wanted as many as possible to be involved.
“There’s been a risk in education today, particularly with National Standards, that the arts take a back seat to the core curriculum subjects, but there are great opportunities for learning within the arts.”
Kereopa says much of history, particularly in non-Western communities, is passed on through art, be it story-telling or traditional handicrafts.
Because the pupils were encouraged to use materials they had at home and school, it taught lessons about sustainability as well as forward planning, goal setting and working together.
“It showed them that you don’t have to have a lot of special materials to make amazing art and opened their eyes to future prospects; the range of roles there are in the art sector,” says Castle.
Atiga-Bridger, 40, always enjoyed art at school but the idea that he could study at university and have a career as an artist wasn’t presented as an option.
Instead, he took various labouring jobs until, in his thirties, he decided to pursue art and began studying for a Bachelor of Creative Arts at Manukau Institute of Technology.
Now in his final year, he works part-time for the Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust liaising with tertiary institutions.
“My kids can see that it’s never too late to do what you love.”
For Red Hill School pupils Athens, 13, and Samarah, 12, it’s been an engaging project and they’ve seen that, with help and coaching, making art is fulfilling and rewarding. They particularly enjoyed seeing the images and designs they had in their heads come into being on their flags.
It’s also helped them realise that art galleries, especially their local one, are for them to go into and see art that inspires them.
“This was a project that was all about broadening horizons and I think it’s certainly done that,” says Castle.
What: Tautua: Pascal Atiga-Bridger
Where & when: Papakura Art Gallery, until November 25
Source: NZ Herald