UO professor is awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit

First-year assistant professor Lana Lopesi has been recognized with one of the highest honors bestowed by the New Zealand government.

Lopesi is a Samoan writer, editor and art critic who joined the UO’s Department of Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, this fall. At a ceremony in April, she’ll receive the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of her services to the arts.

For the past decade “I've been committed to writing arts journalism celebrating and engaging critically with Pacific art,” Lopesi said. “Pacific art is one area where there are a lot of people doing incredibly well in New Zealand, but it's completely unwritten about and underexamined.”

The award came as a surprise, Lopesi said. Most recipients are older and further along in their careers.

Lopesi completed her doctorate in 2021 at Auckland University. Her thesis examined shifts in Pacific Islander art over time, studying how the digital age has shaped the themes reflected in art. She’s also served as an editor and writer for numerous New Zealand publications and initiatives, including the Pacific Arts Legacy Project, which is currently being turned into a book project to be released this fall by Penguin Random House.

Lopesi initially became interested in Pacific art as a way to explore her own identity.

“It was a whole cultural context and worldview that wasn’t acknowledged,” Lopesi said. “I saw myself in that space. I realized my art form was writing, and writing about art, and I've stayed here ever since.”

With a career in art criticism and arts journalism already underway, Lopesi initially wasn’t sure if she wanted to enter the world of academia. But she was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of the Department of Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the opportunities she’d have there.

In addition to continuing her research and writing a book, she’s teaching classes in Pacific Islander studies.

“For a lot of our students it's the first time they've had a Pacific professor and been taught from a Pacific perspective” she said. “That's been really cool.”