17 May 2023

This content is tagged as Pacific arts .


A close-up of a medium-sized abstract sculpture by Johnny Penisula
'Living Rock -- No:4' by Johnny Penisula, 2007, Phonolite from Rarotonga. Image courtesy of his nephew, Raymond Sagapolutele.

Ioane (Johnny) Reuelu Penisula MNZM passed away in Invercargill this week, surrounded by his family and loved ones. A pioneer in the Aotearoa Pacific arts community, Johnny was a hugely respected sculptor, stone carver and painter who has exhibited nationally and internationally since the 1970s. 

Johnny was the 2002 recipient of the Creative New Zealand Senior Pacific Artist Award, in honour of his contribution to the mana and excellence of Pacific Arts in Aotearoa. In 2009, he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to art, in particular sculpture. 

Johnny shared his creative and artistic knowledge with generosity over many decades of his life, and actively supported significant arts and cultural events that have helped to grow creative communities.  

A proud South-Islander, Johnny was a well-known and active member of the Invercargill Pasifika community and was an influential kaumatua of the annual Mīharo Murihiku Polyfest. He also named the capability building initiative Matou Tatou, to support Pasifika-led arts organisations, delivered by Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust and funded by Creative New Zealand.  

Makerita Urale, our Senior Manager, Pacific Arts, spent special moments with Johnny over the years. 

“Johnny was dearly loved by many of our arts communities and our Creative New Zealand whānau. He had an amazing life, was very gentle and kind, with a great sense of humour,” she says. 

“He once told a story – when he first arrived in Auckland from Samoa as a young man, he had to deliver a letter to his aunty. He had no idea she lived in Invercargill, all the way at the bottom of the South Island, so he had an adventure delivering this letter, and that’s how he ended up living in Southland. First, he worked at the freezing works, before he started making his art with a fascination and love for stone and pounamu.” 

“I spent many years at the annual Mīharo Murihiku Polyfest sitting beside Johnny and his dear wife Mavis, watching the children from Southland schools performing on stage. This brought Johnny great pride and joy that the arts, culture and creativity was alive among young people in his community.”  

Raymond Sagapolutele, photographer and Johnny’s nephew, says “our family has lost another pillar, but you and others in our ‘aiga have made sure the next generation stand strong in your place.” 

“I'm going to miss you so much. Rest in alofa, uncle.” 

Johnny’s son Lyle is also an artist and shared the story of his father’s legacy as part of the Pacific Arts Legacy Project, a Creative New Zealand initiative published online at The Pantograph Punch. 

Read Lyle’s piece, Tūfuga and dad, Johnny Penisula, on the Pantograph Punch website, here. 

Johnny’s funeral will be held in Invercargill on Thursday 18 May 2023.  

Ia manuia le malaga Johnny. With love and alofa, 

The Creative New Zealand whānau