Kalisolaite ‘Uhila

Kalisolaite ‘Uhila

Performance Artist
Master of Performance and Media Arts
Bachelor of Visual Arts

What he loves most about being an artist is when people connect with his work, says art and design alumnus Kalisolaite ‘Uhila who is now an award-winning performance artist.

“My greatest achievements are when people tell me they can relate to my work or that my work resonates with something within them. Knowing that people have taken the time to appreciate, or not appreciate, my art practice, and talk to me about it is the most beautiful thing and most satisfying to me as an artist.”

Over the last decade, Tongan-born Kalisolaite has become well-known for his live performances and has received a number of accolades including an Auckland Fringe Award and a contemporary Pacific Artist Award at the Creative New Zealand Pasifika Arts Awards. He was also a finalist for the 2014 Walters Prize.

In late 2020, he was gifted the Art Foundation’s sought-after Harriet Friedlander Residency in Wellington; a $100,000 award that enables the recipient to experience New York.

From rebel to artist
While Kalisolaite is now well-established in the art world, when he was growing up, he was the black sheep of his family.

“I guess for me, choosing to study art was another way of rebelling, especially in my culture. Art was not recognised as a proper career path. It turns out it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

He still has fond memories of his time at AUT, says Kalisolaite who completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts in 2010 and a Master of Performance and Media Arts in 2016.

“What I loved most was being able to experiment and bring to life a lot of my crazy ideas. If there was loud banging throughout the art and design building, everyone knew it was me! One time, all the guards surrounded the art and design building because there was a machete lying around in the foyer. That was also me as it was part of my work.

“I also appreciated the flexibility I was given throughout my master’s degree, enabling me to be a practising artist and study at the same time. My supervisors were really supportive and still are to this day. In my final year of my master’s degree, on top of uni study, I was in six different exhibitions, including residencies in Berlin and Christchurch. As a performance artist, I can’t send a painting to each exhibition; I had to physically be at each of the six exhibitions. It was a full-on year, and I wouldn’t have got through it without the support of AUT and my family.”

Advice for other students
Kalisolaite – who received a Dean’s Award for Excellence in Postgraduate Study – has some great advice for other students who are just at the beginning of their journey to becoming an artist.

“Don’t be scared. Get out of your comfort zone. No change comes from no change.”

His other piece of advice is simple: make the most of the resources available to you as a visual arts student.

“Use all resources available to you at AUT to experiment as much as you can while at uni.”

*The Master of Performance and Media Arts is no longer being offered.