“I’m not a social worker, I’m an artist who’s trying to create a conversation”, Michel Tuffery (2012).
It’s an important distinction for the artist, whose holistic practice has seen him work in an increasingly social realm, collaborating with a wide range of communities to produce art together. Based on a deeply held belief in the possibility of art to create connections, Tuffery’s collaborative projects have included working with communities across Aotearoa (New Zealand), Australia, Asia (Taiwan, India) and the wider Pacific including Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Hawaii and Tokelau.
Like many artists that incorporate relational practices, Tuffery, without straying into social work, endeavors to engage with and nurture societal bonds. Frequently his artwork seeks to bring together disparate or disenfranchised groups with their own histories, tracing social and cultural lineages through the most unlikely and highly playful means.
(Emma Bugden, 2013).
Open Engagement had the pleasure of speaking with Michel Tuffery to contribute to A Reader on Power and offer a perspective on a socially engaged practice unique to the South Pacific region. Michel discusses his approach to working with community, informed directly by his background and traditions specific to Aotearoa (New Zealand). Our conversation highlighted Michel’s emphasis on engagement with the community over time, his process, art as a vehicle for change, and the importance of legacy with community based art projects. This was discussed in the following video interview, specifically in relation to his 2014 project Transforma. This project was a seven week residency located in Airds in South Western Sydney, Australia that comprised of four main components.
- The retrieval of cars dumped in the Woolwash area of the Upper Georges River.
2. An outdoor sculpture studio located in the car park of Airds Bradbury Central.
3. Ongoing workshops with young people.
4. A series of public programs culminating in a major public event – The Transforma Party which celebrated the launch of Buru Transforma Kangaroo – a massive bust of a kangaroo made from the bodies of cars abandoned then salvaged from the Upper Georges River.
About the contributor: Michel Tuffery is part of a generation of trail-blazers in Aotearoa (New Zealand), artists now in their 40s who were among the first wave of artists with Pacific ancestry to work within the contemporary art world. Coming to prominence in the early 1990s, these artists were notable for a refusal to choose between traditional forms of customary art and the western art canon, instead finding a third way, a space in which to connect both strands. They paved the way not only for new generations of Pacific artists but from the 2000s onward for a growing group of Asian New Zealand artists, whose work can also be seen to engage in plurality across cultural and art historical divides. More recently he partnered with the Museum of Contemoray Art (MCA) and Campbelltown Arts Centre (CAC) to deliver his Transforma project within the C3West Program (Emma Bugden, 2013).