When you’re sitting in a custody cell at the police station after being arrested, it’s perhaps the last place you would expect to see works of art. However, local artists were sought to use the dark and dull walls of the Manukau Police cells as murals to inspire hope and change. I had the pleasure of meeting two of the young, talented, Pacific male artists that were selected to paint one of these cells. The artists, Francis Pesamino and Benji Timu transformed their cell into an “Aquariam of Hope”.
Francis and Benji’s Aquariam of Hope draws inspiration from their Pacific culture and experiences. The top of the walls are lined with Pacific patterns, swimming towards a large turtle, placed directly in the middle of the right-hand wall of the cell. Benji explains that the turtle “represents our ancestors coming from the islands, bringing our culture over to New Zealand. The turtle is a reminder that when we find ourselves in dark places, we swim through our struggles, like our ancestors did and despite the roughness of the ocean, the turtle always finds its way through”.
Surrounding the turtle are sea creatures traced with bold words, such as, “LIFE”, “JOURNEY”, “PRAY” and “MOTIVATION” printed on them. Francis states that these are words of encouragement and empowerment. “Most of the people that come through here, they aren’t bad people, they’ve just made mistakes. We wanted to create a space where they can zone out just for that brief moment that they’re here and focus on these positive words”.
Interestingly, the Aquariam of Hope is essentially a marriage of intricate patterns and words, which is a reflection of Benji and Francis’ contrasting artistic styles. Francis, who drew the words, has a more structured and methodical approach to his work, “I always go in with a plan, I discuss the plan with the client and then from there, I’ll work on drawing outlines”.
Comparatively, Benji, the man behind the patterns, is free-spirited and relies on his emotional response to a particular place, “In terms of planning, I just do 10% of it. The rest of the 90%, I go to the site and get a real feel for the space”. Despite these differences, Benji and Francis work well together and agree that if anyone finds themselves sitting in their Aquariam of Hope, they want them to take in the art work and feel at ease, “we want it to be a place where they can truly reflect”.
As young Pacific artists, Francis and Benji acknowledge that venturing into the professional world of art is difficult and they have some words of advice for aspiring artists who want to follow in their footsteps. For Benji, who is studying towards his Masters degree in Architecture, he believes that it’s important to be passionate about what you do, “You’ve just gotta love it 100%, not 90 or 80, you’ve gotta really love it. Be true to yourself”. Francis, as an artist that has had his artwork exhibited in Europe and has steadily built an outstanding international portfolio, states, “you’ve got to create your own opportunities. Don’t wait for them to come”.
Thank you Francis and Benji for letting me tag along with you to the cells! All the best for your next project.