Michael Tuffery / New Zealand/Samoa/Rarotonga/Tahiti / New Zealand b.1966 / Povi tau vaga (The challenge) 1999 / Aluminium, pinewood, corn beef tins and rivets with Mini DV: 2:43 minutes, colour, stereo / Two sculptures: 190 x 308 x 96cm (irreg., approx., each); two sculptures: 59 x 109 x 38cm (irreg., approx., each) / Purchased 1999. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Michael Tuffery

Michel Tuffery
Povi tau vaga (The challenge) 1999

On Display: Regional Touring Exhibition

Povi tau vaga (The challenge) consists of four bulls made from branded corned-beef tins. These bulls became part of a major collaborative project between Michael Tuffery and Patrice Kaikilekofe (Futuna/New Caledonia) at the ‘Third Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ in 1999. The performance brought together dancers from the island of Futuna, as well as local performers from the Samoan community and Indigenous people from Brisbane.

With this work, Tuffery comments on some of Polynesia’s major ecological and dietary problems resulting from increased modernisation. Changing eating habits, for example, afforded corned-beef the status of food staple and ritual gift.

In the Povi tau vaga performance, the two larger bulls represented Polynesia and French Polynesia (Tuffery and Kaikilekofe’s respective regions), and were used as metaphors for social tensions within islander communities.

Michael Tuffery’s practice is largely shaped by his research into, and his encounters with, his Pacific Island ancestry (Samoan/Tahitian/Rarotongan). Tuffery is one of a number of New Zealand-born artists who reference their Pacific identity through European mediums. The artists explains: ‘We’re this third generation; we were born here, in New Zealand. If you go to a new place you create a new culture, and that’s what we’re doing. I don’t think it’s a trend at all, it’s a coming to grips’.1

Tuffery’s woodcuts on tapa cloth, lithographs, drawings and emblematic carvings give visual expression to a distinctive cross-cultural interaction taking place in New Zealand. Over time, his work has expanded to installation, sculpture and performance.


1 Michael Tuffery quoted in Museum of New Zealand | Te Papa Tongarewa, ‘Biography of Michael Tuffery’, https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/topic/1124, accessed August 2021.

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