VIDEO: How family, passion and a desire to hold space for Pasifika people drove Kim Meredith to step into the challenge of becoming a gallery owner.
This video is made with the support of NZ on Air Public Interest Journalism Fund.
I remember as a child, my father John telling me about the family land in Fuipu’a, Samoa. It was in town, near the old police station in Apia.
Standing on the front lawn of our Taniwha Street home in Glen Innes sometime in the seventies, he pointed southward to the Fenchurch Street shops, some six houses down. "See all the way from there," he told me. Then he turned slowly around in the opposite direction, his hand continuing to glide past the neighbours’ houses across the street and then away in the distance, several blocks beyond. "And then past the second bus stop way up there," he finished.
I wondered if he was teasing - as he often did - because even as a young child, it seemed in stark contrast to the three-bedroom state house my parents rented back then.
Several decades later when I finally set foot in Fuipu’a, there was indeed a rock pool with a fresh spring by the main house; it was lush and beautiful as he had described, and so expansive. Here was the place that had existed only in my head, but had long served its purpose - creating a conceptual space, that over the years opened up a world of possibilities and allowed me to dream.
We started talking about having an art gallery once we moved to Eden Terrace almost 12 years ago, into an old shop built in 1925 on Symonds Street.
Aside from being a family of creatives - my partner Kingsley Spargo is a sound artist and musician, our daughter Courtney Sina Meredith a writer and poet; my niece Danielle Meredith (DAM) a painter and maker, nephew Niko Meredith of NoSix, a designer and digital video artist, and of course our daughter-in-law, the renowned visual artist Janet Lilo. -there were also the numerous friends and colleagues who make up our creative community.
Because we were living with art, our lounge that faced out to the world seemed the ideal place for a gallery.
We played around with ideas - would it be just a window gallery; toying around with names like Suit Case, Twenty Four Seven, and even Peep Show - a nod to our building’s colourful past. Until reality got in the way, juggling projects and work commitments, and my father’s health began to slowly deteriorate.
The lockdown periods of COVID ended a number of our scheduled tours, shows we had developed and rehearsed for months (Floating Islands, Tupaia) but there was a hard reality check - we were doing well in relation to the rest of the world. There was time to reflect and think about what really mattered, that after procrastinating about the gallery for more than a decade, it was time to ‘go for it.’
We opened Kim Meredith Gallery last month - after months of hard mahi, having done the renovations ourselves (oh my god, so much dust). With the new climate norms, the heavens opened up - but fortunately, people showed up clutching umbrellas, their raincoats sodden. The gallery launch was literally a steamy affair with the number of bodies pushing the temperature up despite the cool weather.
During the formalities I talked about my father - he passed away during the middle of the gallery build, earlier this year. I recall the afternoon he died, sitting with his body still warm, heartbroken, telling him about the load of timber being delivered the following day, knowing our journey would continue without him.
Seeing my name on the door has taken some getting used to but it tells our story with clarity; the journey of tagata moana, to be a creative and the fight to express your voice. That’s the kaupapa of our gallery.
Janet Lilo designed our fantastic branding, she referenced the tiling outside our front door to create an entire new font; the colour green is for my father.
He teased me as a child, affectionately calling me Blackie, I didn’t like the nickname one bit. Dad considered himself a Samoan from the future, a modern man, so eager to throw away tradition in pursuit of his contemporary ideal. I thought about how to return the favour, coming up with a name that would be equally off-putting. Green Bananas! The name stuck, my children grew up calling him Grandpa Green Bananas, eventually all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren were complicit in the childhood prank. As the years rolled by, he would joke that he was by now a very ripe banana!
After his death, I understood it wasn’t the silly names we’d given each other that mattered. He’d given me space to express myself, without reprimand - this was the gift he gave me.
When I survey the new works of Janet Lilo’s show Remind Me Tomorrow, I see the full expression of a renowned artist, a voice with clarity, innovation and depth.
As the pieces were going up during the install, the sight of our gallery holding Janet’s exhibition had me in awe, the manifestation of a long-held dream. My heart was full when she told me:
"I wouldn’t have made those pieces if you hadn’t created this space."
Kim Meredith Gallery is at 247 Symonds St, Eden Terrace, Tāmaki Makaurau. (Wed-Fri 12pm-5pm, Sat 11am-3pm) Janet Lilo, Remind Me Tomorrow is exhibiting until 8 July.