Telly Tuita: Tongpop Nostalgia

Telly Tuita explores his cultural identity through the feeling of nostalgia, informed by his migration from Tonga at age nine.

In Tongpop Nostalgia, Tongan-born Pōneke Wellington-based artist Telly Tuita explores his cultural identity through the feeling of nostalgia, informed by his migration from Tonga at age nine. Tuita’s longing for a past home, both real and imagined, is conjured in the gallery through photography, painting and installation.  

Tongpop is born out of the artist’s love of bright bold hues, alongside traditional Tongan ngatu patterns and religious iconography. Through this self-described aesthetic Tuita navigates ideas of home and belonging. Borrowing familiar motifs, materials and methods of production that both celebrate and challenge idealised notions of the Pacific Islands. 


Utilising the visual language of the sitting portrait and the still life, four scenes present the artist in different characterisations. Staging and props are drawn from sources ranging from the book of Revelations, politics, tourism and art history. Ribbons, shell necklaces, plastic leis and dollar store objects are recast as the accoutrements and regalia of Tongpop. A Tongpop Wolfpack of fifty ceramic dogs stand guard over the exhibition, inspired by native Polynesian kurī with their short legs and long muzzles. Their candy glazes carry the dogs from the pages of Katharine Luomala’s imperative 1960s article on their origins into the vivid Tongpop landscape. These signs and symbols comprise Tuita’s ongoing reflections on his ancestral home, alluding to the complex and at times fragmentary nature of the human experience of migration.

1) Luomala, K. (1960). A History of the Binomial Classification of the Polynesian Native Dog.