In her first solo art exhibition, Pacific couture designer Lindah Lepou has collaborated with photographer George Buckleton to create Aitu: Homage to Spirit, a series of garments and photographs that pay tribute to three Samoan heroines of legend: Taema, Telesa and Nafanua. These women were of great historical influence and through their actions shaped the cultural and political landscape of Samoa. Even today the aitu (spirits) of these women are often held responsible for unusual events in Samoa.
Lepou’s works operate in a vein similar to that of artists like Shigeyuki Kihara and Lisa Reihana; operating somewhere between fashion and art photography, each work reimagining these figures as supernatural beings adorned in Lepou’s couture garments. Her association with each aitu comes from a genealogical connection and a childhood spent listening to stories about these powerful women. As a young fa’afafine growing up in Samoa, Lepou came to see these aitu as symbols of strength and identity, figures who can be called upon for courage and enablement.
Each of the photographs in the exhibition were shot by fashion photographer George Buckleton in the actual villages in Samoa where each aitu is believed to dwell. During the project there were moments of trepidation as aitu are often seen as taboo and dangerous. Lepou believes the introduction of Christianity has tainted the way people perceive aitu, equating them to the Christian notion of demons or servants of the devil, whereas in the past they were a source of power. By re-contextualising these legendary figures as role models and symbols of power, Aitu: Homage to Spirit provides an opportunity to reconsider the nature of aitu and the role of women in Samoan history.
Lepou’s designs draw equally from European couture and her Polynesian heritage. Lepou’s intent with this series is to demystify fears and misconceptions about these ancestral figures, reimagining them as real people who once lived and loved, just as we do now.
Ma le fa’aaloalo lava oute faatalofa atu ai i le paia ma le mamalu o Samoa ma le Pasefika atoa o alala ma papa aao i le laumua nei o Aotearoa. Ua maua nei se avanoa matagofie e mafai ai ona tatou maimoa i galuega a le tama’ita’i i a Lindah Lepou, e fa’apitoa tele lona tomai i le galuega o le fai laei. O ana laei e maua mai ona uiga i gafa o lona aiga i Samoa, fa’apea tala o aitu o Samoa mai totonu o le Aganu’u Fa’asamoa.
E moni ae le’i taunu’u atu le lotu Kerisiano ma suia le uiga o aitu mo tagata Samoa sa avea aitu ma fa’atuatuaga ma talitonuga e masagi ai tagata Samoa. Sa latou auauna iai ina ia puipuia ai latou ma maua ai le malosiaga fa’aletino i a latou mea e fai. O ia talitonuga o lo’o tumau e o’o mai i le taimi nei.
O aitu o lo’o fa’aoga e Lepou i lenei fa’aaliga ata o tama’ita’i lauiloa mai tala o Samoa anamua. O tama’ita’i toa ia o Samoa na fausia le malo mai anamua. O lea ua gagana mai ai Lepou ina ia maimoa ma silasila Samoa i le mana o tama’ita’i Samoa, ina ia lu’itauina ai tatou i le taua o aitu o Samoa i le Aganu’u Fa’asamoa ae fa’apea le taimi nei.