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Five Samoan Artists Everyone Should Know

The work of Pacific Islanders is vast. These islands are inhabited by artists, tattooists, painters, poets, and storytellers--all with different styles, but connected through their heritage.

In the Samoan islands, the main forms of art are Siapo, Tatau, and Wood-carving, but Painting and Storytelling are also held in high regard. If you are interested in Samoan artists, keep reading to find out who made our list of five Samoan Artists everyone should know.

1. Mary J. Pritchard: Siapo, American Samoa

It is impossible to talk about siapo without talking about Auntie Mary. A widely-celebrated artist, activist, and teacher, Mary was responsible for the revitalization of siapo in American Samoa in the 20th century.

After World War II, Mary was one of only a couple of women still making Siapo on-island. When her contemporary, Kolone Leoso, died in the 1970s, Mary began to take on students and pass her knowledge of siapo.

2. Su’a Sulu'ape Paulo II: Tatau, Samoa

Su’a Sulu'ape Paulo II was a tufuga ta tatau (master tattoo artist) from Matafa’a, Samoa. His father was a respected tufuga, and his brothers still practice the art today.

He began tattooing in 1967, and he moved to New Zealand in 1973. He worked and tattooed as a second job, building deep ties to the growing Samoan community in New Zealand.

He spread awareness for Samoan tatau through his work at the Tattoo Museum in Amsterdam and his work in tattooing the members of the Samoan diaspora in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.

3. Sven Ortquist: Wood-Carving, American Samoa

Sven was the Master Carver for the American Samoa Council of Arts, Culture, and Humanities. He was a wood-carver, sculptor, and boat-builder. He founded the Samoan Voyaging Society (Aiga Tautai o Samoa) and was the first president of the organization.

He was an artist-in-residence at the Jean P. Haydon Museum and the American Samoa Community College. A beloved member of the community and an advocate for the arts in American Samoa, Sven’s art can still be found around the island. Most notably, his sculptures and stained-glass designs can be found at the Fatuoaiga church in Tafuna.

4. Momoe Malietoa Von Reiche: Painting and Poetry, Samoa

While much of Samoan poetry has been written from a communal viewpoint throughout history, Momoe, as a part of the modern movement of Samoan poets, writes as an individual. Her work centers on power, sexism, and other struggles. She also writes about her search for belonging, and the many emotions that come with relationships (love, jealousy, etc).

She is a great inspiration for many female writers in the Pacific, and has led workshops, mostly for women, in Tokelau.

She is a jack of all trades in the arts, teaching and fostering youth programs in creative writing, dancing, theater, and painting.

5. Tony Meredith: Dancing and Choreography, American Samoa

While Tony Meredith grew up in American Samoa, his influence as a dancer artist has gone far beyond this island. A dancer of Mexican and Samoan descent, Tony learned how to Hustle in his cousin’s garage, and the rest was history.

He trained and became a ballroom dance instructor. He partnered with Melanie LaPatin and together they represented the United States twelve times at the Professional World Latin-American Dance Championships. Together they won over a 100 trophies from international dance competitions and became U.S. Ballroom Dance Champions in the Latin Division.

Tony is currently collaborating with partner Keith Michael in creating the Sanctuary on Neil, a center for Ballroom Dancing and other art media in Columbus, Ohio.

There Are So Many More!

The people on this list, both living and passed-on, have shaped the arts on-island, and they have also shaped the way the world sees the Samoan islands.

Interested in learning more about Samoan artists? Keep an eye out for more articles coming soon on our blog!

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