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Lemi Ponifasio

Lemi Ponifasio’s Biography

Last Updated:
4/05/2021, 4:10 pm
Theatre Director - Choreographer - Multidisciplinary Artist
Arts Foundation Laureate 2011
Lemi Ponifasio, theatre artist, and founder and director of MAU. Produced internationally, Ponifasio’s epic productions provoke controversy and attention. His work has been called genius, powerful, frightening, beautiful and inspirational.

Lemi Ponifasio is acclaimed internationally for his radical approach to theatre, activism, and collaboration with communities.

While firmly established within the international avant-garde, Ponifasio grounds his work within communities and diverse Maori and Oceanic cultures, exploring complex forms of knowledge such as oratory, navigation, architecture, dance, performance, music, ceremony, philosophies, and genealogies as a driving force in emphasizing local-oriented arts, indigenous cultural recovery, language and knowledge, thought and narratives that have been silenced or excluded.

After traveling and performing around the world for over a decade he returned to New Zealand and established MAU in 1995, as the philosophical foundation and direction of his work, the name of his work, and the people and communities he works with. MAU is the Samoan word that means the declaration to the truth of a matter as an effort to transform.

In 2013 Ponifasio created MAU Wahine to focus on the Maori woman’s worldview through art, including the relationship with whānau, community, nature, and the potency of female existence. In 2013 Ponifasio founded MAU Mapuche in Chile to share and create work with indigenous Mapuche artists and communities. In 2017, 20 years after he first began making projects with Kanaky artists, he founded Theatre Du Kanaky with young people of New Caledonia.

His works are created in many different contexts and in different forms as solo performances with and without audiences or as opera, theatre, or dance productions, ceremonies, exhibitions, installations, conferences, lectures, festivals, workshops, research and community residencies, and community forums. Major productions have been staged in factories, remote villages, opera houses, schools, marae, castles, galleries, and stadiums in more than 60 countries.

The work with MAU has also been presented at festivals and exhibitions, such as Biennale di Venezia, Lincoln Center New York, BAM New York, Ruhrtriennale, Edinburgh International Festival, Salzburger Festspiele, Festival de Marseille, Theatre de la Ville Paris, Onassis Cultural Centre Athens, Holland Festival, Vienna Festival, Santiago a Mil Chile, and others across Europe and the world.

Lemi Ponifasio is a matai (High Chief) of Samoa. He holds the title Sala