Sofia Tekela-Smith


Buckwheat by Sofia Tekela-Smith

Artwork Detail

Born in New Zealand and raised in her ancestral home of Rotuma, Sofia Tekela-Smith emerged on the Aotearoa art scene in the early 1990s. Originally trained as a jeweller, Tekela-Smith’s practice is largely influenced by her relationship with her ma‘piag hani (grandmother), to whom she attributes her knowledge of traditional materials and making processes. Over time, she has worked across a number of media and has experimented with different modes of display to explore adornment as a way to reclaim and strengthen cultural ties and create a visual language of harmony, beauty, strength and spirit.

Buckwheat is part of the series titled 'Melodies of their Honey-Coloured Skin', 2003, comprising 11 relief silhouettes of the artist, her friends and members of her family. Made from fibreglass hand-finished and painted black, each relief, including Buckwheat, re-appropriates the kitsch black silhouettes used to depict Polynesian, African and Aboriginal heads that were popular in domestic décor in the 1950s and 1960s. Modelled on individual people and adorned with her personal jewellery, Tekela-Smith reclaims and re-dignifies this imagery.

Buckwheat is a relief silhouette of the artist’s close friend Lealailepule Edward Cowley, a community worker and fa‘afafine entertainer better known by his drag persona, Buckwheat. As Buckwheat, Cowley has entertained audiences across Aotearoa New Zealand and abroad for over 30 years. Here, Cowley is memorialised in stoic form with an ear adornment made from mother of pearl, gold, feathers and waxed thread. Tekela-Smith’s work both pays homage to Cowley and reminds us to see beyond stereotypes to appreciate the multidimensionality and humanity of those depicted.

– Ane Tonga, Curator of Pacific Art, 2023

Sofia Tekela-Smith
Production date
fibreglass, mother of pearl, gold, feathers, waxed thread
350 x 220 x 60 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2003
Accession no
Copying restrictions apply
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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