June - September 2015

On the Spot Arts Initiative, Nuku'alofa, Tonga   


In June 2015 I travelled to Tonga to research how a participatory model of painting that I had developed could be transformed in Tonga and whether it had any social and cultural relevance there. I was fortunate to work with the amazing team at On the Spot Arts Initiative and many other fantastic artists who participated. 

Check out the fantastic work that these Tongan Arts Collectives are doing: 

Acknowledgements: On the Spot Arts Initiative, Melbourne University, Apco, Alliance Francaise 

The project related to my MFA research at the Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne. 

See below my 2017 thesis abstract: 


Aesthetic Systems of Participatory Painting: Communicating in Third Space and mental wellbeing in Tonga 

Abstract: This thesis builds upon Homi Bhabha’s concept of Third Space1 to frame social connection and self-determination in a socially-engaged collaborative painting practice. Developed in the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga with On the Spot Arts Initiative (OTS) and involving diverse groups including patients from the Vaiola Hospital Psychiatric Ward, this research offers a new approach to collaborative painting and provides a framework to support mental health and wellbeing. I have theorised this methodology and titled it the Aesthetic System of Participatory Painting (ASOPP). Integrating mental health and contemporary art frameworks, this hybrid model promotes individual autonomy and critical thinking by supporting both harmony and difference, creating a generative space. 

This research argues that by expanding modernist, individualised aesthetic systems to accommodate a social application, ASOPP projects provide opportunities for local communities to critique social structures and self-represent. This can assist in empowering participants and destabilising pre-established cultural hierarchies that hold power and often determine cultural standards. ASOPP has also informed the accompanying documentary video used to account for the research, providing an accessible research outcome and an opportunity to self-represent for collaborative partners and participants. 

1 Homi K Bhabha, The Location of Culture. (London: Routledge, 1994).  



Warning: Contains sexual references and potentially offensive language. Please see link below for censored version




On the Spot Artspace, late into the evening of the opening, August 4, 2015

Rachel stirring the kava

Entrance to Vataulua,


Looking back towards the entrance

Trapdoor to a tunnel that leads to a secret room above

Inside the secret room there are no doors or lights. The audience must have their own torch. Inside the area are a series of marker pens to encourage contributions

The back room

Opening night

Ebonie Fifita is a multi disciplinary artist and director of On the Spot Arts Initiative. On the Spot is an independent organisation that provide and support

artistic endeavours, facilitate professional events and exhibitions and are dedicated to cultural development in Tonga, making the arts accessible and providing a

platform for all Tongans to influence and contribute to culture. On the Spot produce and support various traditional and contemporary art forms, including

theatre, dance,music, visual art and everything inbetween. They are important to the development of free expression and creativity in Tonga.

Tevita Latu is a prominent Tongan artist and member of Seleka. The first time I had a conversation with Tevita was during a kava session at Seleka. I asked whether it

was protocol to drink the cup of kava I was given in one swig. Tevita replied 'If that's protocol Adam, maybe you should do it in two.' This brief exchange highlights

Tevita's and Seleka's motivation: question, challenge and critique conventions, particularly conventions that are designed to exploit.


The Seleka fale, where kava and painting is a popular pastime time


Painting workshops

Photo: Mark Aubort

Painting workshops

Photo:Mark Aubort

Seleka artist Tevita Mamani, putting in an epic effort to help complete Vataulua

Painting workshops


When Jesus say yes, nobody can say no, when jesus say yes, nobody can say no. I know Jesus loves me. Love Naua


The right hand panels feature one statement above, and a response below.

(above right) Join Tongan Polisi Tamate (Join Tongan Police, Murderers)

I learnt that this may have been painted in relation to this murder:

(below right) Mate Ma'a Tonga ( die for Tonga)

Kihe Lelei Taha (strive for the best)

Ki he Lele (until they flee/run) Ita Ha (angry why)

PINE toko (don't give up, stick it out, carry on brother)

LO2 is text abbreviation for Lotu (prayer, pray or religion, it also resembles LOL)



(left) Naua focused on the location of her panel (right) Steev Maka and Ebonie Fifita hanging out under the whale. Vataulua would not have been possible without the

massive contribution of this dynamic duo, from building anything imaginable to professional productions and kindness and generosity. These two are amazing.


Photo: Mark Aubort



Interview with Ebonie Fifita by Cameron Sugden- please contact me for password.



Interview with Mele Palu by Ebonie Maka-Fifita one month after the exhibtion opeing of Vataulua. Camera Sugden camera. Please contact me for password.



Interview with Steev Maka by Ebonie Maka-Fifita one month after the exhibtion opeing of Vataulua,. Camera Sugden camera. Please contact me for password.





















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