Ruby Macomber traces the whakapapa of activism and Moana sisterhoods at Moana Fresh, the iconic community marketplace in Avondale.
Moana Fresh embodies the diversity of contemporary Moana lived experiences. Founded in 2019 by Ahilapalapa Rands (Kānaka Maoli, iTaukei, Sāmoan, Pākehā) and Vaimaila Urale (Sāmoan), the community marketplace navigates changing tides while remaining grounded in Indigenous values.
I share fries, kawhe and conversation with Urale and Moana Fresh co-manager Claudia Jowitt (iTaukei, Pākehā). We sit just up the road from the location of the original Moana Fresh pop-up, tracing whakapapa lines through activist roots, creative communities and Moana sisterhoods.
The original Moana Fresh pop-up in late 2019 was a creative genesis – Urale’s organic coconut oil soap and Rands’ XL scrunchies accompanied the works of 20 other Pasifika and Māori community creatives on a trestle table. The early street-side success and unforeseeable demand from the community demonstrate the power of work ‘by us, for us’. They continued into January 2020 with similar success. This went on until the first Covid-19 lockdown in March of that year.
Rands and Urale completed Bachelors of Visual Arts at Auckland University of Technology. Pasifika students in the programme organically gravitated towards each other – planting the first seeds of over a decade of Moana sisterhood that would swell and shapeshift. Rands and Urale were a part of Lil Mama’s Art K’lub (LMAK) – a collective of female Pasifika students from Whitecliffe, AUT, Elam and Manukau Institute of Technology. Mentored by Ani O’Neill, the group learnt to utilise contemporary materials to explore heritage arts. LMAK created their own world instead of nonchalantly inheriting one that did not serve their sisterhood; from the beginning, they were radical, passionate and grounded in community. Sculpted, weighed words – the collective was cognisant of the need to be organised co-conspirators. It is no accident there are no single male creators in our Moana cosmologies; it takes wāhine collectivity to make something of these diasporic dreams; they require discipline.
From the beginning, they were radical, passionate and grounded in community.
In 2008, Rands and Urale co-founded DA.N.C.E. art club – Distinguished All-Night Community Entertainers – with Tuafale Tanoa‘i (formerly Linda T.). The collective aimed to bring together movement, music, kai and community – what art snobs would call ‘relational aesthetics’ – at a time when there was nothing much else to do. Urale breaks down the importance of dismantling who and where art can be engaged. Like LMAK, the D.A.N.C.E. art club had messaging to disrupt the hegemonies of academic institutions and interrogate artistic hierarchies.
Urale and Rands nod to radical community-building, movement and growth extending beyond the body and into calls-to-action. As interdisciplinary artists, they both continued to pursue their individual art practices, travelling overseas for art projects. Back in Aotearoa, ideas around creating a side hustle as a form of income became a reality. This led to the birth of the first-ever Moana Fresh pop-up at the end of 2019.
Courageous Moana memory laces with fragile soil – waits to stand on something solid, not just safe. Taking on a commercial lease during international uncertainty, Moana Fresh, initially with Keva Rands of Papa Clothing, now had a physical space to make offerings and curate community. Over time, the kaupapa has become a landmark in Avondale. The demand came from around Tāmaki Makaurau, then around the motu, and eventually internationally.
Early Activist Roots
An exploration of the history of Moana Fresh cannot ignore its activist roots. In response to the Black Lives Matter Movement and the enduring impact of violence on racialised bodies, three t-shirts were launched in 2019, with all proceeds going to support the kaupapa.
Despite not having a physical space to work from at the time, every aspect of this kaupapa was values aligned, from the collaboration with Sāmoan-owned business Positive Screenprinting to the artists who contributed (Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho, Ahilapalapa Rands and Momoe Tasker). This framework extended to the Bike Avondale and Protect Urban Ngāhere t-shirt kaupapa and beyond – highlighting the critical consciousness of Moana people towards social justice issues.
Claudia Jowitt, before her current mahi as co-manager, engaged with Moana Fresh in her capacity as a visual artist. She had spent ten years working in commercial art galleries and was ready for a change, so when Rands moved to Whangārei in 2021, Jowitt jumped on board. She was also looking for a career shift into community-conscious and values-driven mahi. Jowitt, cognisant of the high attrition rates of young artists and managing Covid burnout herself, saw an opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the professional development of artists.
The Moana Fresh team emphasises wrap-around support for artists. The kaupapa is grounded in trust; everything from the initial hui to pricing is collaborative.
Even before joining Moana Fresh, Jowitt recognised that art institutions can fail to provide Māori and Pasifika tauira opportunities for meaningful professional development and pragmatic skills. This, Jowitt reflects, infringes on an emerging artist’s ability to sustain their creative practice. Hence the Moana Fresh team emphasises wrap-around support for artists. The kaupapa is grounded in trust; everything from the initial hui to pricing is collaborative. Jowitt has additionally provided the rōpū with her invaluable experience navigating contracts and tax, and offers holistic guidance as someone with rich lived experience in various arts ecosystems.
With social media and community outreach skills, Cassie Low (Sāmoan, Māori Kūki ‘Āirani, Kanaka Maoli, iTaukei, Pākehā) was a natural fit for the Moana Fresh team. Low has been vital in supporting the kaupapa to give back through organising giveaways with the New Zealand Comedy Festival, Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Dawn Raids, and Tusiata Avia’s Savage Coloniser show.
Other creatives in the Moana Fresh whare include weekend store kaitiaki AJ Fata (Ngāti Makirangi, Sāmoan), an artist, videographer and marketing champion; Lili‘uokalani Fraser Cantlay (Kahana, Fasitoʻotai, Tongareva/Penrhyn, Fijian, Ayr, Montrose), part-time store kaitiaki and art gallery installer; and Jessica Palalagi (Niuean/Nukututaha, Pākehā), who, before her mahi with the New Zealand Arts Foundation, worked part-time for Moana Fresh and has maintained her connection to the space as a mentor and trusted friend.
Mentorships for Enduring Change
Through the warmth and tenderness of Moana sisterhood relations, Jowitt, Urale and the rest of the Moana Fresh team push their tides towards community empowerment through mentorship opportunities, both formal and otherwise. Vuli Tara (a phrase in Fijan meaning ‘to learn through doing’) workshops saw Moana Fresh bring together keen community creatives in wānanga around financial literacy, funding applications, accounting, professional practice, community engagement, sole trading and branding. All wānanga nurtured intergenerational knowledge, narrative sovereignty and accessible youth empowerment. Even in this space, Urale and Jowitt demonstrated the importance of empathy and accessibility of opportunity – making necessary accommodations for tauira who needed support to engage. Other talanoa facilitators included Edith Amituanai, Cameron Ah Loo-Matamua, Raymond Sagapolutele and Tyson Campbell.
All wānanga nurtured intergenerational knowledge, narrative sovereignty and accessible youth empowerment.
Vuli Tara nods to the need for accessible and equitable access to creative opportunities. Rarely are free workshops of this breadth offered, let alone out west. Moana Fresh carves space for Moana makers to learn from Moana makers to teu le vā, to safely grow together. “We work with artists and the people around them,” says Jowitt. “The ethos of the space empowers the creative as a person”, creating in the reflection of and response to their wider reality.
Moana Fresh exemplifies the value of a village in carrying creatives through their practice, the ability to depend on, look to and rely on others. Urale, a mana wahine in every sense, balances being a māmā, a director and a creative with her own rich practice. The empathy she brings to her team extends to the artists who entrust their work to the Moana Fresh whare. No artist is a silo – “Who will look after the kids when you’re working on a project?” Urale exclaims. Whānau is prioritised in every Moana Fresh process; the team are sensitive to the complexities of Māori and Pasifika lived experience and empathetic to the balance required as we move between responsibilities
No artist is a silo – “Who will look after the kids when you’re working on a project?”
“It’s an ecosystem, and we understand it does not stop at us,” says Urale. Founded on sisterhood, the kaupapa extends beyond the whare. The Moana Fresh website contains invaluable resources for Moana makers. Everything from funding opportunities to invoice templates are publicly available under community resources on their website.
The Moana Creatives Talanoa series, part of Moana Fresh’s online Community Resources page, features talanoa sessions between Moana Fresh and mana wāhine from the Moana-nui-a-Kiwa creative sector: Ema Tavola of Vunilagi Vou; Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai, Hikule‘o Fe‘aomoeako Melaia Māhina and Toluma‘anave Barbara Makuati-Afitu of Lagi-Maama Academy & Consultancy; and Hina Puamohala Kneubuhl of Kealopiko. Ema Tavola explores art community and exhibition as a decolonial practice. She emphasises the value of keeping Moana art accessible to Moana people, so that when it leaves her whare it keeps on living. Further, Rands and Urale first met Kolokesa and Barbara of Lagi-Maama Academy & Consultancy when LMAK sold floral headpieces at Fresh Gallery Ōtara. The spaces are connected over a mutual love for embodying Indigenous knowledge in artistic expression. Finally, Hina Puamohala Kneubuhl emphasised in their talanoa that Indigeneity cannot be devoid of the stories held in the physical environment – through active resistance, art is a call to action.
Urale and Jowitt reflect on the talanoa series: “we wanted to pick [the featured creatives’] brains and find out about their journeys … the challenges, need for compromise and changing tides.” Gatekeeping is not a thing in this whare. Moana art, like our people, is in constant conversation. Despite each kaupapa holding distinct origin stories, all disrupt traditional means of transactional business. All care profoundly and tenderly for those who find catharsis and connection through Indigenous artistic creation. “We are not competing against each other in the realm of community work, but working side-by-side,” says Jowitt. The talanoa series breaks down the barriers for young or emerging artists, entrepreneurs and sole traders to see this pathway and be excited.
“We are not competing against each other in the realm of community work, but working side-by-side,”
Unlike mainstream art spaces, the beauty and strength of Moana Fresh is the tenderness with which it stands upright in a fluid, ever-changing landscape. This tenderness extends to the artists who sell their work out of the Rosebank whare. Urale and Jowitt follow the talents of creators like Sione Tuivailala Monū, who was featured at the first Moana Fresh pop-up in 2019 and has since exhibited in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and featured in the New York Times Magazine. With access to, and the support of, the Moana Fresh studio, “they have a space to make; it’s as simple as that,” says Jowitt.
The importance of reciprocal trust cannot be underestimated here. Moana makers from across the motu make offerings out of the store, from community-based LGBTQIA+ / MVPFAFF+ group Moana Vā in Ōtautahi to New Lynn-based intergenerational (grandmother/mother/daughter) creatives Moana Oa – everything sold is something to be proud of. The range of pukapuka on offer demonstrates the breadth of Moana stories. Fresh in the whare is Lana Lopesi’s Pacific Arts Aotearoa. The book provides a beautiful account of multidisciplinary Pacific art and creative practice across six decades. Meanwhile, Selina Tusitala-Marsh’s Mophead and Mophead Tu fly off the shelves as long-time favourites of tamariki and adults alike.
Moana Fresh understands the intergenerational separation between body, language, whenua and art. For some visitors, engagement with the products and the kaupapa of Moana Fresh is their first step towards embracing their cultural identity. Urale and Jowitt honour the vulnerability of those who engage in brave diasporic dialogue, who unpack and explore the beauty of their whakapapa, even if for the first time. Visitors open the door and see that our stories do not belong on the periphery. Moana Fresh brings Moana modes of expression to the forefront.
With so much Indigenous excellence in one place, Urale affirms the need for artists and her team to assert their boundaries, to say ‘no’ when necessary – to not fall into feelings of false urgency or scarcity of opportunity. The kaupapa and team are in high demand, but Moana makers protect their capacity. “Sometimes, we just don’t have time.”
The kaupapa embeds Indigenous values in every aspect of operation; it is art, reflecting and shapeshifting, changing tides out of love for all those who call this moana and whenua home.
There’s Something in the Water
It is through the radicalism of Moana sisterhoods, creative communities and radical roots that we arrive back at 64 Rosebank Road. As a young Pasifika creative, I cannot help but write about the absences Moana Fresh fills. It is a place for us to look to and love ourselves. To celebrate Moana modes of expression and community – a collective of women narrating a world we want to swim in. The kaupapa embeds Indigenous values in every aspect of operation; it is art, reflecting and shapeshifting, changing tides out of love for all those who call this moana and whenua home.
Today, the love instilled in the physical store feels radical and intentional. Moana Fresh delicately tends to the space between Moana makes, makers and making, and understands the tenderness from which world-building occurs just as much in our art as in our relationships. There are innumerable possibilities at the intersection of Moana arts and community – fresh waters, for us, by us.
The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.
The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.