Enter the alluring world of acclaimed artist Lemi Ponifasio at Te Papa

Te Papa’s Toi Art presents MAU: House of Night and Day, a major installation by renowned director, choreographer, and multidisciplinary artist Lemi Ponifasio. The installation opened to the public on Tuesday 25 February and runs until 24 May.

Ponifasio transforms Te Papa’s Toi Art gallery into an immersive stage with sporadic live ritual performances, and a new moving image work which projects 15 years of Ponifasio’s work with MAU. MAU is a creative forum that crosses boundaries of theatre, culture, philosophy, and activism, which Ponifasio founded in west Auckland 30 years ago.

Curator Contemporary Art Nina Tonga says that experiencing MAU: House of Night and Day is like stepping into another world.

“Surrounded by moving image that wraps around the 6m high gallery walls and a dynamic soundtrack that draws on Ponifasio’s archive of performance. The installation will evolve over time with the presence of MAU performers who will sporadically appear over the course of the exhibition. For Ponifasio, this is his living archive,” says Ms Tonga.

“The work allows you to step into the realm of MAU. It is alluring, immersive and will prompt further thoughts and reflection.”

Through his work, Ponifasio wishes to challenge us to think about archives and museums as being more than just a window to the past. Ponifasio asks the audience to consider what they would archive and to offer a response as part of the art work.

“Nobody makes work like Lemi Ponifasio. It defies form, genre and often description in the best way”

The Spinoff

“Lemi’s work is radical, uncompromising, challenging, and often controversial”

–  E Tangata

“Ponifasio…  and the Mau company are highly sought after overseas”

– NZ Herald

“His Samoan ancestry is brought to life in his creations; he electrifies contemporary dance forms with the dynamism of ancient ritual to bring the past into the present”

– The Independent (UK)

Te Papa has acquired Ponifasio’s moving image work for the national collection. This is the first time the artist will be represented in an institutional collection, due to the scale and nature of his performance works.

Ms Tonga says the acquisition offers Te Papa a unique opportunity to exhibit elements of Ponifasio’s work, some of which is from international performance, to the people of Aotearoa today and in the future.

“This will be the first time that many visitors to Te Papa will experience Ponifasio’s work. One of the aspirations for Toi Art is to promote a wider understanding of our art histories and creative practices. It also acknowledges the international success of artists like Ponifasio who have helped to shape contemporary art on a global stage,” she says.

Installation view of Lemi Ponifasio, MAU: House of Night and Day​​​​​​​, 2019. Photo by Rachael Hockridge. Te Papa

Lemi Ponifasio is known for creating works that confront some of the most pressing social and political issues of our time. His work uses powerful imagery that is intense, corporeal and provocative.

Ms Tonga says Ponifasio’s work is emblematic of the role of artists as social commentators.

“Toi Art has often drawn on artists and their skills to help us address issues and tell challenging stories,” she says.

MAU: House of Night and Day is the third site responsive commission for Te Papa’s Threshold gallery, following Michael Parakowhai’s Détour and Nike Savvas’ Finale: Bouquet.