Growing up, Saumolia always wondered why his parents didn’t have a wedding portrait, or any photos of their wedding – something that all his other friends’ parents seemed to have. His parents were married on December 11th, 1971 in San Diego, after meeting and falling in love in church on July 4th, 1971. They celebrated their fifty-second wedding anniversary in December. They both migrated to the United States from American Samoa at different times.
His dad, Taylor, came in pursuit of an education in 1965. He attended Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma and later went on to Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri to earn his Master of Divinity and Master of Religious Education in 1982. His mom, Isapela, came to San Diego in 1964 as the daughter of a military family. Together they had seven children. Saumolia is number six. Creating the portrait of his parents for the show was a way to reclaim the lost photo and share his parent’s legacy through art.
Saumolia created the piece, entitled Puapuaga, working with his parents as live models. Looking through the LACMA collection, he was struck by a photograph of the King and Queen of Samoa and strove to give this same royal energy to the portrait. His parents sat for a series of live painting sessions over a month-long period. On the first day of painting, Saumolia asked his dad how it felt to have his portrait painted. His dad replied, “it feels important.” “I remember his response brought me to tears and from that moment, I knew why I was painting mom and dad — I was painting Love,” says Saumolia.
In the portrait, his dad, who has been a pastor for forty-six years holds a Bible. His mom holds a woven “Ili” or fan that reveals a cross, symbolizing the interwoven dynamic between Samoan culture and Christianity. She is also very active in the church and taught Sunday school in between raising their seven children. In the background, Saumolia’s signature abstract painting style envelopes his parents in a stunning view of the Pacific, with a rainbow spanning the horizon.