Vaimaila Urale

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Mea Ilaila

Sāmoan symbolism is the foundation of my art practice. Specifically, the use of two symbols traditionally employed in Sāmoan artforms such as tatau (tattoo) and tapa (bark cloth). Incorporating the digital language of ASCII (American Standard Code of Information Interchange) and symbols found on universal keyboards, my artworks begin as digital formats.

The fa’avae tuli symbol, is derived from the sand footprint of the tuli bird a Sāmoan native shore bird, and is represented by the greater than and less than characters < >. The tusi lili’i symbols are lines on a coconut leaf, and are represented by the backslash and forward slash keyboard characters / \.

I was born in the coastal village of Fagamalo, on the island of Savai’I in what was known as Western Sāmoa, now known as Sāmoa. An immigrant, I have lived in Aotearoa New Zealand since I was one year old. I am a mother of two daughters, Manamea Ela Lepo Taylor (5), and Anivanuanua Thelma Lepo Taylor (4).

Mea Ila Ila or shiny things, is a meditation on motherhood. Raising daughters to be comfortable with the Sāmoan language, values, family, relationships, takes work. Nurturing an environment conducive to a worldview that is my version of being Sāmoan is a daily challenge. I feed them words to counter certain Western ideals around concepts of individuality, ownership, superheroes, gender roles, commercialism and the need to have things.


Mea Ila Ila embraces sand as a natural earthly resource with a sprinkling of biodegradable glitter. The iridescence and shine of both materials is intoxicating, and are materials we love to play with. The floor based installation reflects the constant rhythm, structures and routines which motherhood shapes and forms.

Vaimaila Urale is an Auckland, New Zealand-based artist. Born in Sāmoa, much of her art making process draws on traditional Sāmoan elements expressed through digital media and contemporary social art practices.

Referencing early computer image making known as ASCII, Urale explores digital mark making utilising universal computer keyboard characters / \ backslash and forward slash, as well as mathematical symbols < > less-than and greater-than. Using this process, she has designed tattoos, screen prints, ceramics as well as a large scale public murals.

Vaimaila Urale graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts from Auckland University of Technology (AUT) 2010 and received the Head of School Visual Arts award. Her art practice has a strong focus on collaboration and audience engagement. She is known for her work as part of the art collective D.A.N.C.E art club and her involvement with Whau arts festival in Auckland. Her work has been exhibited nationally at Dowse Art Museum and Māngere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku, as well as internationally at SOMArts, San Francisco, Fei Contemporary Art Center, China and Blak Dot Gallery, Australia.


Sanderson Contemporary (New Zealand)