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Pacific Personalities Interview: Taniela Petelo

Taniela Petelo is a visual artist and musician, born and raised in Haveluloto, Tongatapu, Tonga. In 2009, he began training in fine arts under Tevita Latu, a former art teacher at the Atenisi Institute and Tonga International Academy. Along with Tevita, Taniela is the proud co-founder of Seleka, an artist-run hub for young Tongan artists. In 2014, Taniela embarked on a study scholarship to the Australia Pacific Technical College (APTC), Suva, Fiji completing a Certificate III in Painting and Decorating. This experience coupled with his regular participation in exhibitions and residencies has assisted the artist in further developing his artmaking skills. International collectors regularly commission Taniela, with his artworks being held in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and the United States. As an extension of his practice, Taniela is also an illustrator whose work can be seen in several children's picture books.

What motivated you to start creating art?

My mentor, Tevita Latu. I’ve always loved drawing ever since I grew up. I never knew I would become a fine artist, but that’s the beauty of life. Tevita Latu is a graduate student from the National Art School in Sydney. He painted his whole hut from wall to ceiling. I stopped by one afternoon and joined him. This is when he offered to teach me. I’ve stayed committed to learning and still am today.

How long have you been creating your pieces for and what inspires your artwork?

I started my training around mid-2008 so it’s been 13 years now. Music has always been my biggest inspiration. I have a background in music also and I appreciate every genre from world music to old school and new school.

Please select any piece of art that you have created and describe what inspired you for that piece.

I am also a recording artist and the messages in my songs are mostly about the violence in the youth and domestic violence. The image shows our elders weeping in sadness to see what our youth has become nowadays, Peace is fading and Respect is degrading.

Produced by Taniela Petelo

What advice do you have for upcoming artists from the Pacific?

There’s always a way to earn a living. Art is a life surrounded by struggles, although the passion for the craft surpasses life’s difficulties. From experience, when the resources are limited, the more creative our minds can be. We don’t need to rely on manufactured materials only in order to create an artwork, we can use our own natural materials.


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