Throughout history Tongan warriors were the vanguard of many conflicts across Moana Oceania, for centuries warriors were often hired by chiefs of other islands with blood ties to Tonga, for their wars and internal conflicts.

TO’A MOTU – or Island Warrior, sees artist Benjamin Work a descendant of these warriors, drawing on the connectivity between the sacred islands of the Pacific and Aotearoa. His ongoing research is an investigation of historical Pacific motif and its revivification within an urban context. Exploring the iconography found carved into cultural treasures such as ‘akau tau (war clubs), his paintings and sculptures have sought to find new spaces and ways for audiences to engage with Tonga’s visual culture, both inside institutions and on the streets, debating a sense of place and purpose.

The artist states, ‘I felt the shift before I could articulate it, causing me to search for a new language, a language to communicate what I was seeing and feeling; I found this carved into Tongan weaponry – bold, simple masculine metaphors from our ancient martial weapons, which were closely associated with a warrior’s accolades and sacred protocols. The iconography strategically placed across its surfaces was both metaphoric and abstract and has intrigued me ever since.’

Benjamin Work is an Auckland-born visual artist with Tongan and Scottish heritage. He is a core member of the Pacific street art collective The Most Dedicated (TMD). Work has a substantial background in aerosol painting with his initial creative output centered around sub/ pop-cultural influences that emerged from North America in the 1970s – 1980s. Since then, Benjamin’s visual language has referenced design elements and semiotics particular to Tongan weaponry and culture. His practice extends across a diverse range of media including paintings, sculpture, installation, large scale murals, print based media and photography.


  • Free


  • Sat 27 Aug


  • 2:00 pm — 5:00 pm


  • 3/582 Karangahape Road
  • (Gallery entrance via 2 Newton Road)
  • Auckland, New Zealand