Pasifika at Vic

Dr Peter Brunt

Dr Peter Brunt standing in front of an artwork.

Current role: Senior lecturer in Art History
Pasifika Heritage: Samoa

I was born in Auckland to Samoan parents of mixed heritage. My father is from Fagamalo and my mother is from Vaiala. Although I am a child of immigrants, my family roots in Samoa are very important to me.

Over the course of my life, I've lived in Auckland, Utah, Los Angeles, New York and now Wellington, and I have family all round the world. So when you ask me where home is, all I can tell you is that I try to make every place I'm in home.

When I was I kid, I used to draw all the time. Once I reached high school, I began to take art more seriously. I took art classes and visited galleries. At the time, I wanted to create art more than I wanted to study it. The art world that I grew fascinated with was very foreign to my parents, but they knew it was something I was passionate about.

I had two main ambitions by the end of high school. I wanted to be an artist and an actor, and eventually, I did both. After I got by batchelors degree in fine arts, I spent 10 years working in the theatre, film and television industry, as well as continuing to paint. But there was a nagging part of me that wanted to exercise my critical thinking more. I decided to just dip my toes into university again and enrolled in one class in Art History. I was hooked almost instantaneously and decided to enrol full-time in a Master's programme at the University of Auckland. Following that, I got into a doctorate programme at Cornell University in the United States and so my family and I – we had two young children at the time – made the big move to New York state and lived there for six years.

Towards the end of my PhD, I was asked to apply for a position in Art History at Victoria that included teaching a course in Pacific Art. I’ve been teaching that course ever since.

There are two sides to my job: teaching and research. Both aspects are challenging and rewarding in different ways. When it comes to teaching, I love introducing students to the world of art in our region. There is so much beauty, skill, history and provocation in Pacific Art and it is very relevant to contemporary New Zealand. It makes me proud to see students go on to further study or take positions in museums or galleries and even become published scholars.

There are also exciting research opportunities in Pacific arts. So many stories of our cultures and history lie in our art, and working on it is a great and fulfilling journey. In my work over the years I’ve had the chance to collaborate with many scholars and museum professionals around the world and it’s been so rewarding learning from others who share the same interests as I.

Some advice I have for niu students is to try a Pacific Art History paper. But be careful, you might get hooked! But seriously, I love having Pacific students in my courses. Knowing something about the history of our arts and cultures will help inform how you see your world, in the Pacific and beyond—no matter what you end up doing.