Artist shares Samoan dance and culture in Malaysia

Dancer and co-founder of Pacific dance collective TULOU, Ufitia (Tia) Sagapolutele, describes her time at Rimbun Dahan residency in Malaysia, where she shared Samoan dance forms and learned about indigenous practices. The Asia New Zealand Foundation supported Tia to attend the residency with an Arts Practitioners Grant.
A montage of three photos showing a group of seven people, including Tia, posing for a photo, a woman sitting on steps and the backs of three people as they walk down a street

Tia: "Being a storyteller, I hope that my works resonate with other people who may have similar stories and journeys."

How would you describe the art you create and your artistic process?

Personal. Vulnerable. A process. There’s so many layers to describe the art I make, it’s almost difficult to answer the question, but if I could explain it more simply it would be that I create to share parts of myself to help heal what I have been through.

Being a storyteller, I hope that my works resonate with other people who may have similar stories and journeys.

My artistic process tends to dissect concepts and themes I’m inspired or want to explore. I’m constantly inspired by my late mother, my surroundings such as South Auckland and other artists who are true and authentic to themselves.

I could be in bed, chilling with friends or simply taking a walk and something will come in my head and I’d want to expand on it through movement somehow. I think being a creative artist comes with the responsibility to use our platform well, how we do it is up to us.

Why did you want to do a residency in Malaysia and why the Rimbun Dahan residency – what drew you to the opportunity?

I was intrigued to explore Southeast Asia and learn more about Malay people, culture and indigenous practices. I wanted to be immersed in the culture and look at the differences between Tangata Moana and Orang Asli, Orang Ulu and Anak Negeri [Indigenous peoples from Indonesia].

How did you spend your time at the residency – what did you work on?

I spent a lot of time connecting with local artists, learning indigenous practices, and being immersed in the culture. One interaction stood out for me was visiting a dance performance in Kuala Lumpur where students put together traditional and contemporary works as part of their assignments.

I loved that there were elements of Malay and pop-culture. You could see how influenced they were from their upbringing, culture as well as pop culture today.

What connections did you make while at the residency – how did you share your practice and develop it?

I made connections with the other residency artists who were mostly in visual and fine arts but so inspiring to hear how they pursued art and seeing their process in creating most definitely inspired me with my arts practice.

I found there were a few similarities within movement in dance such as using hands as the main focus but noticed there were some differences where they would move more using the whole body and Siva Samoa is mostly focused on our hands, so it was quite interesting to see.

A montage of four photos showing a group of peope on a balcony, people dancing in a linkwell, a painting of a smiling woman and a collection of photos on a wall.

Tia: "I think there’s a special opportunity connecting art forms, weavers, movers and artists from different countries."

Why do you think making connections with arts practitioners/art forms in Asia is important for you as an artist?

I think there’s a special opportunity connecting art forms, weavers, movers and artists from different countries.

There’s this beautiful experience when people meet someone who has something they’re passionate about learning and creating and finding things they may have in common or interested in.

I think that love for our art, people and culture is what connects us all. Being able to provide and create opportunities for people in Aotearoa to connect with people in Asia is so important because we’re able to tell our own stories and share them to a wider audience.

Were there cultural/artistic connections you made through your artistic process and sharing it with others in Malaysia that you found particularly surprising or enlightening?

Being able to share Pasifika stories and Siva Samoa [Samoan dance] to Malaysia was honestly beautiful. A lot of people had never heard or seen it before so it was an honour to teach and share with them.

Do you plan to further develop what you learnt/worked on at Rimbun Dahar?

I’d love to be able to develop what I had explored and made and create a work in Aotearoa. I also would love to collaborate with the other artists who were also at Rimban Dahan.

We connected together through our love of art and storytelling and it would be beautiful to explore that and create an exhibition responding to our time in Malaysia and what we experienced during the residency.

The Foundation's arts programme aims to bring Asia into the mainstream of New Zealand arts by inspiring New Zealand arts professionals to grow their connections and knowledge of Asia. It also supports the presentation of Asian arts in partnership with New Zealand arts organisations and events.

Our Arts Practitioners Fund provides support for experiential opportunities for individual New Zealand-based arts practitioners to deepen artistic and professional connections with Asia, including residencies, work placements, research tours and exchanges.