After completing her Master of Communication Studies, exploring emotional dissonance in the fashion retail industry, New Zealand-born Tongan Janet Tupou wanted to investigate a topic that spoke loudly in terms of her cultural identity and investigate a topic that could benefit people other than just herself.
“If I can use what I do, and who I am, to benefit purposes greater than myself then I am all in,” she says.
So she embarked on her PhD, looking into the notion of creative identity among Tongan people in New Zealand and exploring the mixed views of Tongan-born and New Zealand-born people.
Janet had noticed that in the Pacific community, specifically the Tongan community, particular expressions of creativity were navigated in an attempt to prioritise usefulness over novelty.
There were significant differences in how creativity was perceived amongst these two main cultural groups.
“I applaud the fact that there is a high degree of positive reinforcement for those that are born here in New Zealand to look back to Tongan traditions and cultural expectations to emphasise our ways of being.
"But at the same time, there are some that don’t identify with tradition because it’s not what they see in everyday context. It is that particular crossroad that I want to explore in more detail.”
Based on narrative analysis, Janet’s PhD explores the lived experiences and stories of a mix of New Zealand-born and Tongan-born Tongan creatives allowing them to express their voices.
“In their stories they talk about the struggles of being a creative: fitting (and not fitting) into both New Zealand and Tongan concepts.”
Janet has highlighted that mild conflicts of understanding and acceptance surround the value of creativity and its placement in our everyday lives, more specifically when it comes to the reasoning behind Pacific people embarking on creative pathways.
“There is a push for young people to delve into more traditional study pathways while creative avenues are not so much encouraged.
"Times are changing and there is a need to unpack the value that creativity holds and how Pacific people can prosper in this field individually and collectively."