'Uhila Nai

'Uhila Nai

Master of Visual Arts with First Class Honours  
Bachelor of Visual Arts

Art has always been something she has had a passion for, says ‘Uhila Nai who completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts at AUT in 2018, followed by a Master of Visual Arts in 2020.

“I grew up watching my grandma making Tongan traditional arts and crafts, and watching her inspired and influenced me to do the same. Arts and crafts kept me connected back home to my grandma, my ancestors and our culture.

“Art kept me moving forward because I moved back to New Zealand after 13 years of living in Tonga. The gap between the cultural differences was too big, and art was the one thing that pushed the two closer together. So, ever since then, art has played a huge part in my life.”

Knowing that she wanted to study art at university, ‘Uhila then explored her options of where to study. Her older brother suggested AUT.

“My older brother was an AUT student and offered me a lot of advice about the programme. That is how I ended up studying at AUT. My decision was confirmed when I came to AUT for my interview – it was such a warm and welcoming interview and that influenced my decision to study at AUT. The lecturer who interviewed me gave me much inside information about AUT and the visual arts degree. This made me feel comfortable with my decision to study at AUT.”

Exploring new perspectives
She would highly recommend AUT’s visual arts programme to other students, says ‘Uhila who is proud of receiving a number of awards throughout her studies, including the inaugural BC Collective Award and Auckland Art Gallery Award for High Achievement, the Vā Moana Pacific Spaces Postgraduate Award and the Adobe Creative Award for Creative Use of Software.

“As a visual arts student, you explore and experience a new perspective and learn new techniques. It is a great programme that provides you with so much more than you ever expected. You explore your ideas in a community that you can rely on, and that will support you in art school and in the art world.

“I enjoyed making at the labs, learning and gaining new knowledge about materials, techniques and creating a space for the ideas to bring to life. I’m thankful to all the technicians for all their help. The community within AUT’s School of Art and Design always makes sure that everyone feels welcome. Their facilities are among the best that I’ve seen so far, and they have the best technicians and academic staff.”

A particular highlight for her was being able to include the Contemporary Pacific minor as part of her Bachelor of Visual Arts.

“What I enjoyed about the Contemporary Pacific minor was the number of practical courses we did about different Pacific practices. Most of our classes were outside of AUT, collaborating with collections from the museum, taking a behind the scenes tour at the museum or visiting art galleries with Pacific artists. This minor is beneficial, especially if your practice is based on Pacific practice notions or if you’re interested in learning more about Pacific culture.”

Support and inspiration
After thoroughly enjoying the three years of her bachelor’s degree, ‘Uhila jumped at the chance to continue into postgraduate study.

“Looking back to my undergraduate years, we had lecturers and tutors like John Vea, Louisa Afoa, and Professor Albert Refiti and all the seniors in the visual arts department. They were always there to help us through any hard times and shared their knowledge with us. Throughout my time at AUT, these guys have become my family and were a key reason for me to continue with my study.”

The support she received from the visual arts staff also inspired her to help out other students, ‘Uhila says.

“I wanted to do the same thing; help out the students, especially our Pacific and Māori students. The young artists enrolled in the visual arts programme inspired and influenced me with their different perspectives. I wanted to become someone who can support them and help them bring their ideas forward, especially when it comes to indigenous knowledge.”

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