Nationality: New Zealand
Website: Website
New Zealand artist
Born Samoa

Images of Samoan Identity

A New Zealand born Samoan, raised and educated in Mangere, South Auckland, Andy Lelei started painting after leaving school. Working in a factory left him little time for creativity, and it was not until 1994 that he was able to take up painting seriously. His first exhibition, appropriately entitled “Early Escapades”, was held the following year and consisted of work completed whilst he was artist-in-residence at Mangere Community and Cultural Centre.

In September 1997, Lelei had the first exhibition in the new art gallery at Auckland’s Aotea Centre. This collection of 23 paintings was called “Waking Up to My Polynesian Spine”, and dealt with such subjects as immigration, youth suicide and religion. Images entitled In Fear of Being Found and The Brownest Dawn represented a personal voyage of discovery – in search of identity both as a Samoan and artist. In 1996, Lelei was an invited to participate in the seventh South Pacific Festival of the Arts, Tala Measina, in Western Samoa. In 1998 he was artist-in-residence at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in Sydney.

Andy Lelei is a self-taught artist whose work provides – and provokes – social and political comment. He effectively demolishes the notion that all is warm and comfortable in this corner of the Pacific. He has stated that he paints “what is inside …. it just bursts through, like a volcano”. He is one of a number of a new generation of young artists who are providing an alternative perspective, their personal images showing the darker side of social and political history.

Lelei describes his work as reflecting an evolving brown consciousness. Although his paintings may express an ambivalence towards aspects of Samoan identity, he also acknowledges it as a source of great strength and pride.

Twenty-eight years old, he lives in Mangere and paints in a garage-studio he calls the Dead Mango.