Robin White with Ruha Fifita

Ko e Hala Hangatonu: The Straight Path 2013

8 March - 13 April 2013

Auckland Arts Festival

Prominent artist Robin White’s large-scale, painted tapa installation project, made in collaboration with Tongan artist Ruha Fifita, is Two Rooms’ visual arts highlight for the 2013 Auckland Festival. Owing to its ambitious scale, hybrid mix of historical and contemporary iconography, patterns and references, that range from the Pacific to Western Europe and the Middle East, Ko e Hala Hangatonu represents the artist’s most ambitious project to date.

“An exciting aspect of the project is making work that, while acknowledging and honouring tradition, explores contemporary themes. I used a well-known traditional Tongan design as a starting point for the Hala Hangatonu installation, taking a familiar framework  to explore new ideas, incorporating fresh visual images and symbols from diverse cultures and aesthetic traditions” says the artist.

There is a traditional and often-repeated Tongan pattern called the HALA PAINI – the pathway of pines.  It represents the road, fringed with Norfolk Pines, that leads to the King’s palace in Tongatapu.   The artist has taken the idea of a pathway (hala) as the conceptual underpinning of the work and recasting it as the “hala hangatonu” – the straight path.  While having a literal meaning as a straight path this term, the hala hangatonu, is also, in a metaphorical sense, the path (or course of action) that takes you directly to where you need to be.

As with the HALA PAINI, the HALA HANGATONU has a literal anchorage, namely Ben Gurion Avenue, in Haifa, Israel and the steps and terraces comprising the Baha’i gardens and shrines on the slopes of Mt Carmel, forming a continuum that proceeds from the Mediterranean shore to the crest of Mt Carmel.  Distinctive features from these two geographic locations will be included in the tapa design, for example the houses of the German Templar Colony on Ben Gurion Avenue and the cypress trees that fringe the pathways on the slopes of Mt Carmel.

These features will combine with Tongan customary forms and patterns, alongside details from examples of early European art, in particular Duccio di Buoninsegna’s “Maesta” altarpiece and Hans Memling’s “The Man of Sorrows in the Arms of the Virgin”.

While carrying the DNA of its Hala Paini “parent”, the visual narrative of Hala Hangatonu with its collage of references to Tongan and European traditions set in a contemporary context, invites reflection on a way forward through the current challenges that we face as communities and individuals.

Paula Savage


Robin White with Ruha Fifita

details from Ko e Hala Hangatonu 2013

Hiapo (tapa), earth pigments and plant dyes

Photography credit: Jason O’Hara


Made with the assistance of:

Creative New Zealand

The Langafonua Women’s Handicraft Association, Tonga.


Courtesy of Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington.