APT8: Angela Tiatia Edging and Seaming

 
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Angela Tiatia / Edging and Seaming (stills) 2013 / Single-channel HD video: 12 minutes, looped, colour, sound / Purchased 2015. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

The video work Edging and Seaming is a love letter to humility.

Angela Tiatia’s tightly composed video and performance works often act as portraits of both an individual’s experience and an aspect of contemporary society. They present Tiatia’s own body or those of her loved ones, performing repetitive actions of physical or symbolic endurance, enabling the artist to articulate deep personal experiences of migration, displacement, and racial and gender stereotyping.

Created in 2013, Edging and Seaming features video footage of the artist’s Samoan mother, Lusi Tiatia, in her Auckland home workshop, where she repetitively seams garments to be shipped offshore, alongside that of a group of workers in a factory in Guangzhou, China, engaged in the same laborious activity. Tiatia cites the inspiration for the work in a desire to explore

. . . [t]he interdependence of global economies and the way companies migrate just the way people do . . . from the late 1980s we see global companies chasing cheap labour and people travelling from country to country in search of work.1

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Lusi Tiatia moved from Samoa to Aotearoa New Zealand as part of a wave of migration that began in the late 1950s. A single mother and trained seamstress, Lusi set up a workshop in the garage in her backyard, where she could both complete the construction of garments for export and look after her family. As a child, the artist remembers hand-trimming selvedges from the stacks of half-finished garments and the drone of the machine racing along seams to meet the next deadline. Edging and Seaming documents the end of this personal history: the video shows Lusi completing her last ten bundles, the company she worked for having finally moved its operations offshore.

The footage in the second channel of Tiatia’s work was shot while visiting workshops in China with a friend. The women featured are predominantly Chinese migrant workers who moved to Guangzhou in search of work. As with many Pacific migrants, like Lusi, these women send the bulk of their income back to families whom they rarely get to see. Struck by the similarities, Tiatia speaks of her work as a love letter to both.

The idea of a love letter is apt: the work is both highly personal and expresses an awareness of and desire to engage with the realities of another. It is not critical of the operation of labour within global capital markets; instead, the workers in Guangzhou and Auckland are filmed intimately, in the fullness of their day-to-day life, just getting on. The beauty of Edging and Seaming, and much of Tiatia’s work, is just this humility. Rather than a lesson, we are offered a closer view of what it means to live in someone else’s shoes. With this we can connect.

Endnote
1  Angela Tiatia, correspondence with the author, 2015.

This APT8 work is on display in The Fairfax Gallery (1.1), GOMA.

The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT)
is the Gallery’s flagship exhibition focused on the work of Asia, the Pacific and Australia.
21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016

Exhibition Founding Sponsor: Queensland Government
Exhibition Principal Sponsor: Audi Australia

APT8 Highlight: Shigeyuki Kihara

 
© Shigeyuki Kihara. Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
Shigeyuki Kihara, Samoa/New Zealand b.1975 / Mau Headquarters, Vaimoso 2013 / C-print, ed 4/5 / Purchased 2015 with funds from Mary-Jeanne Hutchinson through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / Image courtesy: Yuki Kihara Studio and Milford Galleries, Dunedin / © The artist

Acquired for the Collection with the generous assistance of Mary-Jeanne Hutchinson, this intriguing series of photographs by Shigeyuki Kihara responds to the images of Samoa taken by Alfred Burton, who visited the Pacific in the 1880s, and looks to redress stereotypes of the Pacific perpetuated in colonial photography.

In the late nineteenth century, French artist Paul Gauguin borrowed stylistic traits from Italian Renaissance fresco painting to create the ambitious, nearly four-metre-long painting D’où venons nous / Que sommes nous / Où allons nous (Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?), dated 1897–98. The work was created in Tahiti as a visual manifesto on the nature of life, and arranged human, animal and symbolic figures across an idyllic island landscape. Inspired by a widespread fascination with the South Seas, the painting’s landscape and use of naked and partially clad figures mirrors the idea of Tahiti as an untouched Arcadian paradise that was popular at the time.

Just over a century later, Shigeyuki Kihara employs photographic technologies (first developed in France in the mid nineteenth century) to create a narrative tableau exploring the complex interwoven histories that affect life in contemporary Samoa. Each of the photographs in this series features the artist in the guise of her alter ego, ‘Salome’ — a resurrected late-nineteenth-century widow in full mourning attire — viewing historically ‘altered’ landscapes of Samoa.

© Shigeyuki Kihara. Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
Shigeyuki Kihara, Samoa/New Zealand b.1975 / German Monument, Mulinu’u (from ‘Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?’ series) 2013 / C-print, ed 5/5 / Purchased 2015 with funds from Mary-Jeanne Hutchinson through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / Image courtesy: Yuki Kihara Studio and Milford Galleries, Dunedin / © The artist

Separated by over 100 years, Gauguin’s painting and Kihara’s photographs both situate islanders against a Pacific landscape. While Gauguin uses a Tahitian landscape as the exotic backdrop for his explorations of life, death, poetry and symbolic meaning, Kihara’s engagement shows a nuanced understanding of Pacific culture. Spooling cinematically across time as well as space, her photographic tableau sees Salome appear at iconic sites in a contemporary Samoan landscape, in the wake of Cyclone Evan and with the damage of Tsunami Galu Afi (in 2009) still evident. The huge physical impact of these natural disasters on well-preserved colonial architecture and institutions, historic landmarks, and more recently erected structures, such as the international airport, seems to highlight not only the historical and cultural occupation of this landscape, but also the cultural and economic challenges faced by an isolated island nation as it struggles to assert its independent presence on the world stage.

Kihara’s use of the photography to create her narrative tableau continues her long-held interest in redressing European stereotypes of the Pacific, perpetuated through colonial photographs of Samoa and its people. In addition to its Gauguin references, ‘Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?’ responds to the images of Samoa taken by Alfred Burton, who travelled on the Union Steam Ship Company’s inaugural cruise of the Pacific in the 1880s. The full-length mourning gown worn by Salome is inspired by the restrictive dress introduced to Samoa by early missionaries, which was worn by the female sitter in Thomas Andrew’s photograph Samoan Half Caste (from the album ‘Views in Pacific Islands’) 1886, in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington. While Andrew’s subject looks directly at the viewer, Kihara’s tightly corseted Salome turns away, instead casting her gaze over the landscape before her. Adopting the roles of director and producer, the artist provides Salome with a degree of agency unknown to her historical counterparts, with photographs that provide a postscript to earlier representations of these and questioning the stereotypes they asserted.

The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT)
is the Gallery’s flagship exhibition focused on the work of Asia, the Pacific and Australia.
21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016

Exhibition Founding Sponsor: Queensland Government
Exhibition Principal Sponsor: Audi Australia

Highlight: Rex Warrimou (Sabiö) ‘Our Creation (Ömie)’

 
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Rex Warrimou (Sabïo), Papua New Guinea b.c.1945 / Our Creation (Ömie) 2014 / Natural pigments on barkcloth / Purchased 2015. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Created by the only male Ömie barkcloth painter, this detailed visual creation story, recently acquired by the Gallery, marks a significant departure for the Ömie people of Papua New Guinea.

In 2009, 63-year-old law man Rex Warrimou began the process of recounting the Papua New Guinean Ömie people’s creation story to young Australian curator Brennan King. The story, entrusted for centuries to select men of the tribe, was slowly recorded, first as an oral history and more recently as a series of nine paintings on barkcloth. Without local precedent, these narrative paintings resonate with the enormity of what the artists are attempting to capture. The composition of each painting follows the logic of a story told, weaving together bold treatments of space, tone and theme with intimate detail.

Warrimou’s choice of barkcloth as the canvas for this recording reflects two things: the role of barkcloth in the creation story, and the importance of this medium to the contemporary survival of the Ömie people. Residing high on the slopes of volcanic mountains in Oro Province, the Ömie territory is extremely remote and without agricultural or mineral resources to propel them into a global economy, and yet today, as the result of a growing international appreciation of the Ömie women’s stunning abstract barkcloth paintings, this remote tribe is one of the more well-known and self-sufficient in the country. Found in major museum collections throughout world, Ömie women’s barkcloths record connections to specific locales and stories as well as translating the spiritual experience of these places and their history. While poetic stories are often recounted in the works, bold abstract motifs conceal as much as they reveal. This is partly because individual women are given access to only specific parts of the Ömie story. The name of the first woman to make the cloth was Suja, which translates as ‘I don’t know’.

This artwork is the last in Warrimou’s series. It is also the most complex and ambitious, illustrating a continuous thread from the creation of the world by Uhöeggö’e the lizard through to its population with plants, animals, insects, birds, the seasons, fire and humans.

In Warrimou’s own words:

Uhöeggö’e was at the lake and created everything from its water — the trees, plants, animals, insects, birds, wind, storms, stones, fire and fruits and vegetables for food. He saw the world he had created was very beautiful but that there was no one to look after it.

Uhöeggö’e watched as the water in the lake tried to create human beings. But the water was making many mistakes — the humans did not look like proper humans. Uhöeggö’e looked into the lake and saw himself reflected in its surface like a mirror and thought to himself, ‘I am going to create a man in my own image’. He drew his own image in the ground and with his hands he then helped the water mould the first man, Mina, and said, ‘Now you will become a man’.1

Created by the only male Ömie barkcloth painter, Warrimou’s Our Creation (Ömie) marks a significant departure in the history of the tribe, for the first time visually recording a story safely ‘kept’ by its senior men. The work is alive with the generosity and openness of this gesture, one that expands not only our understanding of the exquisite abstracted paintings of Ömie women but also of their culture and home.

Endnote
1  An excerpt from Rex Warrimou (Sabiö), ‘Ömie Creation’, in Jiji Dor’e Dahor’e (Star on the Mountain) [exhibition catalogue], Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane, 2015. Full text emailed to the author, May 2015.

Highlight: Parastou Forouhar

 

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Parastou Forouhar, Iran/Germany b.1962 / (from ‘Persian for beginners’ series) 1997 / Edding calligraphy pen on paper / Purchased 2013. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

In the lead up to ‘The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT8) we look back to a work acquired during APT7 by Parastou Forouhar and share insights into the artist’s inspirations.

Parastou Forouhar’s diverse artistic practice, which ranges across installation, photography and drawing, engages directly with her personal biography. Forouhar, who grew up in Iran, was the daughter of politically active parents in the period leading up to and including the Iranian revolution in 1979. Her emigration to Germany in 1991, followed by the politically motivated murder of her parents in 1998, altered her relationship to the country and language of her birth, from one of everyday intimacy to one of ambiguity. It is this space of ambiguity and its potential as a space for creation that Forouhar seeks to develop within her work.

‘Persian for beginners’ 1997, is a series of 15 calligraphic drawings Forouhar created as part of the German-based artist collective Fahrrad Halle. An important formative work in her oeuvre, it heralded her interest in the graceful eloquence of Persian calligraphy as not only a language of communication but also as an aesthetic discipline and space of exploration. In each of the drawings, Forouhar uses the calligraphic strokes and dots that make up the Farsi (Persian) word for a particular animal, to create the image of that animal.

Writing about this work, Forouhar likens the ambiguity around whether we are looking at an image or text to the feelings of affiliation and strangeness she felt when labelled as ‘the Iranian’ among her German colleagues. The visual elegance and simplicity of the drawings beautifully captures the act of trying to communicate in another language and across cultures, beginning with simple things and the importance of non-verbal and written modes of communication for carrying not only meaning, but feeling.

The art of calligraphy has a long history in Iran. Predominantly associated with the writing and communication of the holy text, the Qur’an, it has been explored as a space of aesthetic exploration for many centuries. Forouhar is interested in reclaiming calligraphy from its religious role by engaging with its visual eloquence and later traditions, such as zoomorphic calligraphy, which emerged in the fifteenth century, relatively late in the history of Islamic art, when religious taboos outlawing representation had lost some of their power.

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Highlight: Julia Mage’au Gray ‘Best foot forward’

 

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Julia Mage’au Gray, Papua New Guinea/Australia b.1973 / Best foot forward 2011 / Single channel HD video projection: 2:26 minutes / Purchased 2015. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Bold and sassy, this vibrant video work explores the intersection between urban and traditional lifestyles, as well as the artist’s Papuan and Australian heritage.

Over a career spanning decades, Julia Mage’au Gray has creatively responded to her Pacific heritage and culture. Inspired by its performance traditions Gray revives and adapts customary forms, working across dance, photography, tattoo and video to create compelling multimedia works. A characteristic choreographed work by Gray for her company Sunameke Productions, for example, brings dance together with photography and highly polished video projections.

In the 2011 production Who Born You?, to which Best foot forward contributes, Gray explores ideas of cultural heritage and belonging. As a performance piece, Who Born You? draws on an extensive repertoire of Pacific dance traditions to structure and develop a narrative about contemporary Pacific identity. The video components of the work provide a parallel thread, intersecting at times with the performers movements, at other times providing an expanded view of contemporary Pacific culture.

Central to the work is the exploration of Gray’s own sense of ‘Nesian identity’. Gray deliberately uses the term ‘Nesian’ to challenge the colonial imposition of ‘Melanesian’, ‘Polynesian’ and ‘Micronesian’ labels and to articulate the long standing connections between all peoples of the Pacific. Born in Papua New Guinea to a Papuan mother and Australian father and now living in Australia with a Māori husband, Gray’s work refuses the idea of essential ‘identities’ exploring the movement across and between.

The spectacular golden grass skirts worn by women in her mother’s Mekeo culture for performance often provide a metaphor for this movement. A close shot of a swaying Mekeo skirt worn by Gray’s sister Yola opens the video segment and dance passage for Best foot forward. As the camera pans out from this, the music tones up and a fully clothed woman in high heels strides away from the viewer, along a bitumen road. Without turning to face the camera Yola stages a dramatic performance centred on the shedding and retrieval of the heels. A seductive tension is created between the ways in which the skirt extends the performers body, its organic fibres fluidly moving in unison with her movement, and the spiky, restricting impact of the shoes which are desired, discarded and then picked up again.

An exploration of the intersection between urban and traditional lifestyles and the artist’s dual Papuan and Australian heritage, Best foot forward also responds to the huge archive of colonial video and photography of Papuan women in traditional bilas. The opening shots of Gray’s Best foot forward more or less replicate the pose and adornments of this plethora of archival material, with Yola pictured as a set of seductively swinging hips. A sense of life, power and identity is however restored to Yola as she takes control of the scene, and the choices made around the markers of her identity and sexuality. Best foot forward strongly asserts a sense of a Papuan bodily inheritance as well as acknowledging the historical agency of photography and film — the very mediums that Gray now employs — in the colonial administration of her people. Gray thus retrieves the power over representation that many of her anonymous female ancestors were denied and, by copying their stance and dress, asserts the continuation of Mekeo womanhood.

Bold, sassy and deeply layered, Best foot forward packs a punch. The work provides a strong statement on contemporary Papuan culture, life and identity in the face of urbanisation and a history of cross cultural interactions.

in Pursuit of Venus [infected] | An interview with Lisa Reihana

 

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Lisa Reihana, New Zealand b.1964 / in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (stills) 2015 / Four-channel HD video, 32 minutes (looped), 5:1 sound, colour, ed. 2/5 / Images courtesy: The artist, Fehily Contemporary and Artprojects
New Zealand-born artist Lisa Reihana’s in Pursuit of Venus [infected] is the subject of the Foundation’s 2015 Appeal. Gallery curator Ruth McDougall spoke to the artist about the work and the inspiration behind it.

Ruth McDougall (RM)  You were a member of the influential 1990’s performance group Pacific Sisters. Performance, and particularly the performance of a contemporary Pacifica identity, was important in the work of a number of New Zealand-born artists during this period. Can you talk about this period?

Lisa Reihana (LR)  Pacific Sisters founding members were Selina Forsyth, Niwhai Tupaea and Suzanne Tamaki. My introduction was via Selina, who was a pattern cutter and seamstress for the Mercury Theatre. We were all based in inner-city Auckland and worked in creative fields, and the Sisters formed at an exciting time — part of a movement reinventing ‘urban indigenous’. Many of us hailed from mixed-up ancestry, and this was a safe place to compare notes on such things as Pacific history, sewing and handcraft skills. Working with the Sisters offered kinship in its collaborative approach and shared learning — beauty and brains. Rosanna Raymond and Suzanne Tamaki were young mothers, so besides the sharing of cultural knowledge, we shared childcare — there was much laughter, love and yummy food. And of course everyone was gorgeous and proud of their DNA. There were male ‘sisters’ too, marvelous musicians such as Henry Taripo, Karlos Quartez, Brother J — sexy, groovy and loud, you couldn’t help but notice when the Pacific Sisters arrived. Our contemporary approach wasn’t always acceptable as we challenged tradition, spun yarns and busted open notions surrounding what Māori and Pacific practice could be.

RM  What was it about the Dufour wallpaper Les Sauvages de la mer Pacifique c.1804 in particular that inspired you to use it as the trigger for this work?

LR  I was at Hyde Park Art Centre, in Chicago taking part in the Close Encounters project. Within HPAC is the Jackman Goldwasser Gallery with 10 video which projectors create a 10 x 80 inch panoramic screen. As a multi-channel filmmaker I so wanted to make something for that space. The gallery has its own unique challenges and technical characteristics; it’s able to be seen both day and night, as well as close-up or at a distance from across the road. So when I was searching around for ideas that would suit the set-up, I recalled James [Pinker] introducing me to Les Sauvages de la mer Pacifique on show at the NGA in Canberra . . . Hyde Park’s video gallery suddenly made bringing the panoramic wallpaper to life seem possible. I could see the potential, and have spent the last six years bringing that vision to life.

I wanted to . . . present real Pacific peoples engaged in their own ceremonies — here we are . . . living, breathing and beautiful.

RM  The use of performance continues to play a key role in your work and in your newest four-channel video in Pursuit of Venus [infected] 2015 it is the mechanism used animate nineteenth century representations of Pacific peoples, allowing contemporary descendants to speak back. Can you talk a little bit about the types of representation you are responding to in this work?

LR  Les Sauvages claimed to represent indigenous peoples, but like many things, it is a mirror of its time. Entrepreneur Dufour accompanied the wallpaper with a prospectus that included some very disparaging remarks about some races. The characters clothing was influenced by the discovery of Pompeii — hence their dress of wrapped tapa and feather bindings has strange approximations that are more like togas with ribbon detailing. I wanted to re-animate the wallpaper to present real Pacific peoples engaged in their own ceremonies — here we are . . . living breathing and beautiful. Not only is there a shift in the representation of the indigenous peoples, but the background moves too, it is a mesmeric slow pan that shifts the very ground, destabilising the foundation it is based upon. And as a viewer, you are posited as tangata whenua — the local people, so in Pursuit of Venus [infected] allows you to stand for a while in someone else’s shoes — the original land owners or the harbingers of colonisation. Like any business or organisation, this project has an acronym, too: In filmic terms, ‘POV’ is the shortened form of ‘point of view’ . . . and these slippery notions take place throughout the video work.

RM  You have in the past been described as a story teller. What are the stories that you want to share with audiences of in Pursuit of Venus [infected] 2015?

LR  I scoured Anne Salmond’s The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Encounters in the South Seas (2003) and Nick Thomas’s Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain Cook (2004), wondering deeply about the encounters between peoples of different geographies and cultures. The value of re-enactment is to physically see it, and as a filmmaker this is something I am able to do. When iPOV is projected, the scale brings an immediacy to history — it’s no longer a line on a page but something embodied and visceral. As there is little dialogue in the work, the audience must decipher what’s going on, much like the historical characters as they lived through these cross cultural communications and miscommunications. I’m of mixed descent and am the camera on the shore and the explorer, witness to the events and daughter of the oppressed and oppressor. Sometimes it’s the smaller details that grab me. In thinking about early tattoo culture, such famous symbols like anchors were tattooed on European bodies by the Tahitian Arioi; and artists made their own relationships without the safety net of armed Marines by their side. There are over 65 vignettes in this work, hopefully everyone in the audience will have something they can relate to, ponder on or at least be left with a sense of wonder.