Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nga Kakahu - The Cloaks

'Ngore' Image Courtesy Jo Torr.
Give Wellington-based artist Jo Torr a needle and thread and she creates small miracles – sculptural gowns of exquisite detail that explore cross-cultural design traditions and the beautiful, inventive surprises that come with material ‘appropriation’ and adaptation. For her latest exhibition at Tauranga Art Gallery, Nga Kakahu (The Cloaks), Torr has created three garments based on 19th century dresses and elements of Maori cloaks. She focuses on the relationship between Maori cloaks and European blankets- a shift from her previous focus on Pacific Island cultures – and she has drawn inspiration from a number of sources including the photographic works of Alfred Burton (1885), showing Maori wearing an array of costumes ranging from woollen blankets, fine cloaks and fashionable European dress – dresses that on closer inspection reveal added adornments such as a muka necklace, a tiki or a huia feather.
'Korowai' Image Courtesy Jo Torr.
“The central theme that runs through my work is that of mutual cultural exchange between Polynesian and European peoples….and each sculpture takes the form of a garment that incorporates an aspect of Polynesian and/or European cloth and an aesthetic sensibility associated with either culture. In this exhibition, the works draw attention to the way both Maori and Pakeha have benefitted from the exchange,” says Torr. She has used white blankets (a metaphor for dressed muka), salvaged from opportunity shops to construct the garments, leaving the existing stains and marks in place as markers of the blankets’ own history.
'Kaitaka' Image Courtesy Jo Torr.
The garments in Nga Kakahu are named for three types of cloak held in high regard in Maori society – Kaitaka, Korowai and Ngore. Torr has adorned each with her own beautiful craftsmanship, adding taniko (woven) borders, pompoms made with muka (dressed flax) and hukahuka (fringe/tassels). Torr’s works “make no pretence to historical accuracy: they are not museum specimens but artworks, an inventive and imaginative response to a moment in our history,” writes Jill Trevelyan in the catalogue essay. Her work is “celebratory in its impulse. Indeed her latest work can be seen as an homage – a Pakeha artist’s homage to the art of Maori weaving and the fine cloak in particular.” Jo Torr works at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and her work is represented in public museums and private collections. Nga Kakahu will show at Tauranga Art Gallery until February 21, 2010. www.artgallery.org.nz

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