Artist reclaims and reframes Pacific narrative

posted: 8:30 pm - 20th October 2019
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(Picture caption: Pacific Performing and Creative Artist Leki Jackson-Bourke says it is important to try and make art that is accessible and inclusive of Niueans. Photo: Robert Cross Photography.) 

While Pacific Performing and Creative Artist Leki Jackson-Bourke uses culture cautiously in his art, he believes it is a risk worth taking. 

“As my nana always said, ‘Do things properly or don't do it at all’,” Leki says. 

Raised in Grey Lynn by his grandparents, Leki moved to South Auckland as a teenager and attended Marcellin College. 

“I come from very loud, proud staunch families - dad was born in Tonga, mum was born in Niue and they are also part Samoan,” he explains. 

Leki embraces all three sides and loves them equally, he adds. 

During the recent 2019 Niue Language Week, Leki, who received the Emerging Pasifika Writer in Residence for 2019 at Wellington’s Victoria University, visited the Ministry for Pacific Peoples to speak to the team about his journey as a creative artist and the influence of his Niuean culture throughout his work. 

As a freelance Pacific Performing and Creative Artist, Leki collaborates with multiple teams and creative artists to create work for the industry and the community.  

The work Leki tends to create often has a strong Pacific focus and is about reclaiming and reframing Pacific narrative and taking ownership of Pacific stories. 

“My work always has Pasifika language in it in some way shape or form, and often involves song, dance and cultural heritage art forms.” 

In this way, he embraces and celebrates his cultural identity, he says. 

“To me, Niue is more than a flag emoji on Instagram or a yellow and blue top on sports day. 

“It is years of passion, pain and pride and I try not to take Niuean things lightly - I always research and I always collaborate with people who can fill in the gaps in my work. 

“I'm very cautious about using culture in my art but it's always a risk worth taking.” 

Leki says celebrating the Niuean culture is extremely important, as Niue is a minority culture within the minority. 

“Many young Niueans in New Zealand are disconnected from the community and the church. 

“It's important for me as an artist to try and make art that is accessible and inclusive of Niueans who are on all ends of the spectrum.” 

Embracing his cultural identity has had its fair share of challenges, such as in 2015, when Leki returned to Niue to perform the Niuean theatre showMy Name Is Pilitome, by Vela Manusaute. 

“That was the defining moment when I conquered one of my biggest fears - performing and speaking Niuean in front of a local Niue audience. 

“They are different from a palagi theatre audience - Niueans and Pacific audiences in general, are loud and open and they give honest feedback on the spot and sometimes during the performance. 

“Baptised by the fire.” 

Leki is constantly evolving and learning as an Artist, and he has several mini projects in the pipeline as well as trying to publish a book of three plays,aimed at highlighting the urban contemporary youth experience of Pacific youth at high school. 

“Our brown kids in high school need more resources for the arts and this is my contribution to that space. 

“I want them to tell their own stories, to own their voices and to be unapologetic in who they are and where they come from.”