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
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.
Ruth McDougall is Curator, Pacific Art, QAGOMA
1 Angela Tiatia, correspondence with the author, 2015.
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