Photographing Samoan gender identity


An emerging Samoan’s photographer who has explored gender identity and mythical story-telling hopes his work will go international. Pati Solomona Tyrell’s first solo display of photos is also part of Auckland’s Festival of Photography this year. Sara Vui-Talitu has more.

Artist photographer Pati Solomona Tyrell’s work focusses on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pacific communities in New Zealand.

Mr Tyrell says “fagogo” is named after a film he made earlier for a tertiary assignment that captured people’s attention.

“Fagogo is the Samoan term for fables, and I was looking at fagogo as a way to share stories through the artwork, specifically stories about the queer Pacific community here in Aotearoa and using fagogo as a way to share a story about creating counter narratives for our community to see themselves in the future.”

He says the work also explores stories with a spiritual nature as well as his sexuality.

“It also includes my family in the stories and me being queer and how I am with my relationships with my parents and the men in my family and my culture.”

Auckland Festival of Photography director Julia Durkin describes his exhibition as out of this world.

“We have always been encouraging of the margins of society, particularly kind of from different communities, specifically around Chinese community, Maori communities, Pacific and from LGBT communities as well and it has been very important for us as a festival to work with artists who are creating ground-breaking cutting edge work which is how I would describe Pati’s new show. 27”

St Paul Street Gallery assistant director, Balamohan Shingade, describes the work as “delicious”.

“Pati’s work is, we believe, really very important and already he has shown to be quite prolific because he has produced an enormous body of work whilst at art school and outside and especially as a principle photographer for FAFSWAG Pacific Arts Collective, he has strengthened that collective through his photography.”

Mr Tyrell says FAFSWAG is an arts collective he specifically helped set up to further his community’s endeavours.

“I guess being a platform for artists to share their stories and express themselves. Often our people are not really given the opportunity to share their stories and so FAFSWAG becomes just an avenue for them to do that.”

He says he has high hopes for it to be exhibited to more audiences overseas.

Ms Durkin says they’ve been aware of Mr Tyrell’s potential and are keen to help.

“The show that I have seen is such good quality that we’d be really keen to help it get overseas as it just has that international appeal. So we have an international festival network with Asia Pacific Forum and we work with festivals in Columbia, Guatemala, China, Japan.”

She says she’s known about Mr Tyrell’s work for some time now, and describes him as an artist whose work is starting to take off.