About Vā Moana
Pacific Spaces

About Vā Moana Pacific Spaces

Vā Moana - Pacific Spaces is an international research platform which engages Indigenous Pacific and Western thought to study Pacific notions of space.

Formed in 2012 by Lealiʻifano Albert Refiti and Tina Engels-Schwarzpaul, the Vā Moana - Pacific Spaces research cluster is an international research platform which engages Indigenous Pacific and Western thought to study Pacific notions of space. Based at Auckland University of Technology’s School of Art and Design, but with a far-reaching network of international scholars our research transforms ways of thinking about contemporary and customary Pacific understandings of the world, by examining Indigenous Moana modes of producing space, objects, rituals and performance. We develop new research in this area and to promote discussion and publications from Pacific perspectives. We focus on how Pacific concepts affect the production of space and the use of the built environment, re-exploring and extending customary knowledge alongside academic discourse. Pacific people have always produced new and novel ways of understanding the world, based on and extending tradition.

Vā Moana - Pacific Spaces has a strong focus on building intellectual communities and supporting emerging Pacific researchers find their feet in the academy. We run a number of events and programmes which bring together our postgraduate students, international networks and local Moana communities together these include an international reading group; vā kōrero; fono and talanoa. For more information on upcoming events and programmes please see Kawepūrongo/News/Talafou.


Principal Researchers

Assoc. Prof. Albert L Refiti – Spatial & architectural theory; Pacific cultural studies and anthropology (albert.refiti@aut.ac.nz)

Dr. Layne Waerea – Contemporary visual art, socio-legal performance, action as knowledge, photography and video-based documentation, and te Tiriti o Waitangi. (layne.waerea@aut.ac.nz)

Prof. Tina Engels-Schwarzpaul – Spatial and cultural theories and practices; transcultural, non-traditional postgraduate research supervision; alternative ontologies and epistemologies (tengels@aut.ac.nz)

Associate Researchers

Dr. Lana Lopesi – Moana Cosmopolitanism; contemporary Pacific art; critical theory.

Dr. Fleur Palmer – Architecture, community activism, participatory action research, self-determination of Indigenous peoples

Rafik Patel – Architecture, drawing, ethnography and cultural studies, Oriental spaces in the Pacific (current PhD candidate).

I’uogafa Tuagalu – Pacific History, Samoan Thought, Vā studies, ethnography and ontology (current PhD candidate).

Dr. Carl Douglas – New forms of public space and infrastructures, global meshworks in the Pacific.

Dr. Nooroa Tapuni – Mangaian Cybernetic continuum, Media arts, Emerging technologies (VR), creativity and innovation, contemporary art (Asia / Pacific).

Dr. Keri Wikitera (AUT, NZIT) – Māori tourism, Māori identity, Kaupapa Māori Research, Indigenous Tourism.

Assistant Prof. Moana Nepia (AUT) – Video and performing arts, choreography and curation. Co-founder of Pacific Spaces.

Our advisors in Aotearoa are Prof. Tagaloatele Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop (AUT) and Prof. Robert Jahnke (Massey University).


Our affiliates are positioned in academic and professional environments in Aoteroa, the Pacific, the US, and Europe:

Prof Malama Meleisea (NUS, Samoa) Pacific history.

Prof ‘Okusitino Mahina (Vava’u Acad) Tonga, Pacific theoretical anthropology.

Prof Tevita Ka’ili (BYU Hawai’i) Pacific cultural history, anthropology.

Prof Sa’iliemanu Lilomaiava-Doktor (Uo Hawai’i) Cultural geography.

Assoc Prof Vicente Diaz (Uo Minnesota) Comparative and global Indigenous Studies, Critical Indigenous Theory.

Prof Matori Yamamoto (Hosei University, Tokyo) Anthropology, economy.

Assist Prof Jake Culbertson (Haverford College) Anthropology of architecture.

Dr Amiria Salmond (Düsseldorf, Germany) Theoretical material anthropology.

‍Prof Carl Mika (Uo Canterbury) Philosophy of education, mātauranga Māori.

Marilyn Kohlhase (Pacific arts and community consultant)

Lemi Ponifasio (MAU dance theatre) Choreography, dramaturgy.

Dr Ross Jenner (UoA) Architecture and architectural history & theory.

Dr Billie Lythberg (UoA) Visual anthropology

Prof Deirdre Brown (UoA) History of Māori architecture.

Rameka Tu’inukuafe (Jasmax) Architecture.

Elisapeta Heta (Jasmax) Architecture.

Robert Pouwhare (Ngāi Tūhoe – AUT, Te Ara Poutama) Māori media, digital media and video production, Te Reo Māori, mātauranga and tikanga Māori.

Dr Valance Smith (Ngā Puhi, Waikato, Chinese – AUT, Te Ara Poutama, School of Science) Te Reo Māori, waiata, haka; Māori and indigenous spirituality and performance; traditional ecological knowledge; mātauranga Māori implementation.

Benita Kumar Simati (MIT, Learning Advisor) Spatial design, Pacific communities and identities.

Rowena Fuluifaga (Unitec, Lecturer & Pathway leader for Pacific success).

Dr Azadeh Emadi (University of Glasgow, School of Culture & Creative Arts) Transnational, intercultural cinema, media and performance arts.

Natalie Robertson (AUT) Photography, mātauranga Māori.

Nova Paul (AUT) Moving image art & experimental filmmaking, mātauranga Māori.

Current Postgraduate Candidates

Please see our research page here for a list of our current postgraduate candidates.

Completed Postgraduate Candidates

Lana Lopesi (PhD, 2021)

Lisa Waldner (PhD, 2021) Conversations With the Sea: How Localised Design-things Can Sensitise Communities to the Conditions of the Anthropocene

Uhila Nai (MVA, 2020) Family Memories: Capturing Stories From Different Time-lines Within the Tongan Traditional Crafts of Ngatu (Decorated Barkcloth) Making and Kupesi (Embroidered Stencil) Design

Emily Parr (MVA, 2020) The Ocean is Calling Me Home: Settler-Indigenous Relationships of Te Moananui a Kiwa

Arielle Walker (MVA, 2020) On Returning to the Sea: Towards Belonging Through Land, Language, & Tactile Storytelling

Carl Douglas (creative practice-led PhD, 2018) Strange Relations: A design inquiry into infrastructure as topological place

Rowena Fuluifaga (MPhil, 2017) O feosofa'iga o le vā: Samoan Women Negotiating vā Relations in and Around an Art Centre in Rural Samoa

Waiana Jones (MPhil) Mana Wahine. Nga korero tuku iho no Tuhourangi me Ngati Wahiao. Counter memories of Maori women and strentgh of Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao.

Tima Al-Saedy (BA&D, Hons) Zakhrafa

Kate Nalesu (BA&D, Hons) Discovering a new world hidden in mythopraxis

Tara Ngari (BA&D, Hons) Kapikianga – A manifestation of materiality

Annabel Setefano (BA&D, Hons) Beyond the glass case: Re-imaging a Pacific Portayal

Shannon Smith (BA&D, Hons) Culture intervention

Thank you so much to Dinamo for their support (www.abcdinamo.com)
Typeface: Prophet

Referencing his typeface Georgina, Prophet has been used throughout this website in acknowledgement of the late Sāmoan typographer, Joseph Churchward.

Website design by Shaun Naufahu.

Image credit: Interieru de la maison publique d'Apia, Ile Opoulou. Drawing by Goupil; lithograph by P. Blanchard, 1848.