Artist Profile: Katherine Atafu-Mayo
Written by Joel Thomas for Art Ache
LOT23, 26th July 2018.
Katharine Atafu-Mayo makes art that explores her personal experiences of cultural identity and tradition. Atafu-Mayo invites us into her life, sharing traditional recipes and telling stories with tapa, engaging us with fond memories that make her feel at home.
Katharine Atafu-Mayo leads a life of communication, starting cultural conversations with her work, performing spoken word poetry and when she’s not studying, helping other people communicate by fixing internet connections as a part-time job. Despite this constant engagement with others, her communication with herself and her own identity is just as important.
Atafu-Mayo’s mother is Samoan and her father is European, they raised her and her two sisters in Te Atatu, before the family moved to Grafton. As a child, she got to engage with artist and creatives because of her father’s work at the Auckland Museum and was constantly engaged in art through both of her parents.
“My parents are advocates for embracing differences and culture. That’s something that I carry throughout my day to day life.”
Despite previously having a “feeling of inadequacy” as a result of “being afakasi’ (the Samoan word for mixed heritage), she has become more comfortable with her own experiences with Samoan culture and believes the wealth she draws from this is worth sharing with the wider sphere. One way she does this is by sharing traditional Samoan recipes with a distinct aesthetic; her recipes are hand type in pink ink, her tapa are printed with her own stories and emotions. The traditional work is engaging with a personal and modern process in an effort to reflect her current world.
“Throughout my art practice, I often bring the indigenous Samoan culture into the white cube to reaffirm that it is not a historical remnant but a living part of contemporary society.”
Atafu-Mayo aims to create “contemporary tapa” (or siapo in Samoan) by presenting her own symbols, feelings and emotions to an audience with the traditional method of storytelling. Despite admitting she doesn’t understand everything about being Samoan, Katharine Atafu-Mayo engages with Samoan culture in her own personal way.
Or follow Katherine on Instagram @kattymayo