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Updated: Jul 20, 2020

Telly Tuita is a Tongan-born artist now living in Lyall Bay, Wellington. Here he talks op-shop finds, upcoming projects, and moving overseas for love.

How do you cultivate a collector base?

I don’t. I can’t predict what collectors or any buyer of my art will want and I hope I never do. I make the work I want to make and if you have a good gallery (I have two), they create the space where not just collectors but casual buyers of art can own a piece of Tongpop. Art media like this can be another platform for new fans.

What role does the artist have in society?

Like a historian, designer, and shaman, we retell, we speculate, we investigate, we chronicle, we create, we instigate, we fabricate, we activate, we procrastinate, and we decorate.

What project are you working on now?

Recently completed a body of work for Auckland Art Fair in May. Concurrently, I’m working on large work on paper for the Parkin Drawing Prize, and photographic series for National Contemporary Art Award - Waikato Museum.

Do you collect anything?

Oh yes I do! Weekly visits to hospice shops and recycling centers, treasure hunting for pre-loved souvenirs from Pacific Island holidays.

How do you organise, plan, and prioritise your work?

When I do, I’ll let you know. There are always three or more works on the go at once.

In 5 words, describe the colour yellow to somebody who is blind.


Money is no object. Which priceless artwork do you buy?

David Hochney, A Bigger Splash (1967).

In 2 sentences, teach us something we might not already know.

  1. I moved to Wellington from Eora Nation (Sydney) two years ago for love.

  2. I am a great cook and love hosting dinner parties.


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