The hand you were dealt
06/05/23 — 03/06/23
The hand you were dealt
06/05/23 — 03/06/23
“I always believed it was the things you don’t choose that makes you who you are. Your city, your neighbourhood, your family.”
– Dennis Lahane, Gone Baby Gone
Edith Amituanai’s The Hand you were dealt looks at the artist’s critical approach via some of her most enduring working relationships. The exhibition takes the form of a card game, bringing together eight pairs of photographs made between 2004 and 2023. Each pair features a perennial subject; some were made around the same time, others span a long period. Amituanai has employed a veritable array of formats in the course of ‘wrestling with the single frame’. This exhibition includes such examples as digital prints on organza and Instax Polaroids — a ‘readily shuffled’ form she likes to refer to as her ‘talent book’.
‘Subject’ is a barely adequate descriptor of the role of the individuals — Nive, Ioka, Isaac, Shiloh, Lema, Epi, Christian, Dason — who animate these images and have contributed to Amituanai’s shifting method. Early on in her career, the artist says she was, “very much an insider.” In recent work she takes on different roles: Journalist, quasi-social worker, Ranui Flâneur. ”There is something in me that within the roles I make up for myself, I always have to vary.” Timing and a willingness to hang around are also crucial. “Why don’t you photograph more rugby players or photograph the Lai family again? — It’s a long game. I’ll circle back eventually, when we’re ready.”
For the exhibition, Edith interviewed her sister-in law, Ioka Amituanai, collaborator and subject of Ioka (2004) and Miss Amituanai, (2005). Ioka reflects on what it means to have been one of Edith’s subjects and asks if anyone has ever turned her down? Edith contemplates the exhibition’s title. “Thinking about the people I’ve included in this show, some might say they were not dealt a fair hand.”
In 2019, fellow photographer, Haru Sameshima, gave Amituanai the accolade, ‘Village Photographer’, in an essay likening her work to that of American social-activist and educator, Lewis Hine (1874-1940).*
Sameshima wrote, “Hine treated photography both in the classrooms and in the factories, as a visual form of communication between photographer, subjects and viewers that enabled empathy.” His eloquent observation of this three-way exchange is an insightful way to think about the photographs in The Hand you were dealt. For Amituanai the possibility of empathy depends on the photographer hanging around to record those moments when the cards are played.
* Haru Sameshima, “The Documentary Impulse in Edith Amituanai’s Art”, Edith Amituanai: Double Take, curated by Ane Tonga, Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery, 2019
Edith Amituanai is a New Zealand-born Sāmoan photographer working from the suburb of Ranui, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. From interiors to driveways to communities, Amituanai’s practice is concerned with the environments that shape who we are. Her first solo exhibition, Mrs Amituanai, that records moments on and around her wedding day, was held at Anna Miles Gallery in 2005. That year she was the youngest artist to feature in the survey publication, Contemporary New Zealand Photographers. Two years later, she was inaugural recipient of the Marti Friedlander Photography Award, and the following year she was the first Walters Prize nominee of Pacific descent for her exhibition, Dejeuner, that examined a new Pacific diaspora, expatriate New Zealand Sāmoan rugby players living and working in Montpellier, France and Parma, Italy. Her first major survey exhibition, Edith Amituanai: Double Take, curated by Ane Tonga, opened in 2019 at Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. In the same year she became a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to photography and community. Amituanai has exhibited extensively in galleries and museums across Aotearoa and internationally. In 2022 her work was exhibited in the Busan Biennale, Korea. Her artwork is held in national and international collections including Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and QAGOMA (Queensland Art Gallery).