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Updated: Jul 13

A Portrait of a Pakeha / Tongan Woman Claiming and Holding Ground in the Corporate Arena

Claiming Ground (oil on canvas, 92cm x 122cm, 2024) is an ode to the trailblazers among us, women who continue to cut new paths for us all.

This portrait features Monique Esplin, a childhood friend of the artist, of both Pakeha and noble Tongan descent. She leans against a regal colored sofa within the foyer of the PWC Tower in Auckland. It is dusk outside, and the sky is both impossibly blue and darkening to black, imbued with the soft pink and peach tones of sunset and the purple greys of an urban night. A gentle distant landscape and the presence of office towers reveal a cityscape scene.

The harsh black woodwork of an outdoor pergola is also visible in the background, as are the subtle reflections of floor to ceiling glass windows. These forms represent the obvious and subtle structures that Monique encounters in the corporate environment: persistent corporate culture and the associated glass ceiling.

Monique wears a glamorous asymmetrical gown in Western style, but the folds of fabric seem to speak a language known in the Pacific, of wind and bones and sails and waves. Her traditional Tongan costume accents the dress, and golden gemstone earrings hint at goals of wealth.

The bright fluorescent lights of the foyer flood down from above, casting her soft features in harsh fractured planes. Traditional Tongan portraits of women in costume often appear somber and formal, grave even. In this work, her gaze reflects the steady, direct strength that any powerful man's might, challenging our assumptions about the need for females to appear pleasing in their expression. She is powerful in her person, and need not soften that with smiles.

The floor is a pale blue grey marble, reflecting various tones from within the scene as well as the lights from above.

I adore Monique, and her courage to walk the path of strong feminine power. I also admire her concerted efforts to learn about and represent her own and other Pacific cultures within the corporate environment. Simply by being there, she is claiming and holding ground for other women and people of Pacific Island descent to follow in her path.

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