Emily Mafile’o is the second contributor to the ongoing artists’ billboards project at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts. She presents works from her current photographic series undertaken in both her ancestral homeland Tonga and South Auckland where she currently resides. Mafile’o’s bicultural heritage remains at the forefront of her practice. Her enigmatic large scale photos are meditations on place, which blur distinctions between documentary, portraiture and abstraction.
Mafile’o creates raw yet intimate semblances of images. She frames her subjects against residential surroundings, often in the evening spotted by a flash mounted on the camera. These are juxtaposed beside other portraits ‘blown up’ to accentuate the figure’s expressions within a Xeroxed haze. There is a strong sense of the physicality within the prints, and the narratives developed between these images communicate the geographic span of contemporary Tongan culture. Photographer Ann Shelton has stated that Mafile’o’s practice “marks a significant moment, the inception of the desire to record this configured diasporic cultural phenomenon. Mafile’o’s work marks a flow of a culture as it oscillates between Tonga and South Auckland, its influence, its idiosyncratic conditions and the family ties that bind it between here and there.”