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Darcell Apelu

15 Sep–14 Oct 2019

Apelu is an artist of Niuean and New Zealand European descent, born in 1990 and raised in Mount Maunganui, on the north island of New Zealand.

The artist works with moving image, sound, performance and installation. Her practice is informed by her experiences as an afakasi – a Samoan person with some European ancestry – female and her projects often reflect the social climate of New Zealand. The body plays an important role in her work as she explores perceptions of the Pacific body, identity and of ‘being other’. Her work is often autobiographical, exploring the cultural identity of the pacific community and how it is perceived in the west.
Apelu is also a highly regarded international competitive wood chopper, which influences some aspects of her practice. In her performance piece, New Zealand Axemen's Association: Women’s Sub Committee President (2014) the artist uses her skills to strike out against assumptions about her identity. In the middle of the gallery floor is a piece of wood encased in a metal framework. Carrying an axe and wearing a Polynesian multicoloured cloak, Apelu walks around the perimeter of the space. After removing her cloak, revealing simple black athlete attire, she positions herself on the wood and begins to chop. During the performance it becomes clear she is not an amateur; and that she is highly experienced in the field of chopping. ¬Due to the authenticity, the work begins to feel less like a performance, but rather the artist participating in an action that is very natural to her. With every strike she makes against the wood Apelu attempts to smash stereotypes about her perceived pacific identity.
Apelu completed a Masters in Art and Design at Auckland University of Technology in 2013 and a diploma of teaching in 2014. She has exhibited in a number of group and solo exhibitions including: lai-pa, ST PAUL St Gallery, Auckland, 2017; Make Me, Tauranga Art Gallery, 2015; Such a damn Jam, The engine Room, Massey University Wellington, 2014; To and Fro, Artspace, Auckland, 2014 and NZ Film Archive Presents Siapo Cinema, 2014.
Supported by philanthropists Sigrid and Stephen Kirk, and in partnership with Te Tuhi in New Zealand, Darcell Apelu has been invited as YSP Visiting Artist this Autumn. The UK–New Zealand residency supports young, emerging visual artists from New Zealand to developed their practice in the UK for the first time.

Darcell has drawn on research from her month at YSP and her Lafaiki Residency in Niue to create A Death of Prosperity, exhibiting at Te Tuhi from 5 December 2020 to 7 February 2021.

The sculpture considers the British empire’s promises of prosperity that drew migrants to Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand). ⁠The work is a fountain bearing the inscription: “You will never possess the soil, you will never be secure” – inverting the words of British colonialist Edward Gibbon Wakefield: “possess yourselves of the soil and you are secure.” Darcell asserts the Māori worldview’s understanding of land as being held collectively, and questions whether prosperity is even attainable for most within late capitalism.⁠

This new work is an exciting extension to the artist’s practice, partly inspired by her time at YSP.⁠ Photos below by Sam Hartnett.