A new exhibition on Britomart's Te Ara Tahuhu is a collaboration with Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira that celebrates the art of tivaevae for the City of Colour festival. Here, curator Fuli Pereira talks about the quilting traditions that these works are born from. 

JEREMY HANSEN Fuli, you're Curator Pacific at Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, and you chose the tivaevae that were photographed for this exhibition. How did you choose them?

FULI PEREIRA There were a couple of things to keep in mind when selecting tivaevae. It was important that we represented the range of tivaevae in the collection, also the time depth represented in the collection was important, as some of the older patterns aren’t seen today. The range of colours and fabrics available today is amazing compared to the more muted colour palette and limited textiles of the early 1900s.

JH What is the importance of tivaevae among the communities that make them?

FP Tivaevae are meaningful within communities that produce them because not only are they presented to significant individuals (eg. a son at his hair-cutting ceremony or a child as a 21st birthday present) or presented to a couple at their wedding ceremonies, but they are passed down through families as beautiful heirlooms. They are a wonderful expression of women’s skill and creativity.

JH Artworks like this in western society have often been devalued as “women’s work” and not regarded as worthy of being held in institutional collections. Has this bias also affected the way we historically regard tivaevae?

FP This is true, but not only because “women’s work” was devalued in Western culture but also because of the lack of cultural knowledge by Pākehā curators. In Polynesia, where tivaevae are predominantly made, the material created by women have always been items of high value – barkcloth was made by women to clothe not just people but also the gods, fine mats were gifted to and worn by people of the highest rank, and hibiscus skirts, hair belts, sleeping mats were all made by women and all culturally considered items of the most prestige. 

JH What do you like about the works?

FP Tivaevae are a great way to launch a festival of colour. With these tivaevae we were able to show some well-loved and used older pieces as well as some new and brightly coloured pieces. I love that the older pieces reflect more the natural environment of the islands and geometric patterns not seen so much with contemporary tivaevae. And I love the contemporary tivaevae as they much more lively and vibrant, much like the Mama who make them!

JH What do the works say about the cultures and the people that created them?

FP For me the works represent hours of love and dedication, they represent togetherness and community through vainetini gatherings and therefore the transmission of cultural knowledge. These works also speak to me of the resilience of people living away from our island homes, under quite difficult circumstances. They also speak of the ability of people to adapt to new environments, and abilities to find new inspirations and reflect to these in creative and meaningful ways like tivaevae.

JH What else are you working on at the moment?

FP My team and I are thinking through lots of publication possibilities and the range of publication types. The team is also currently re-imagining new Pacific galleries at the museum. With an increased diversity within our Pacific communities of viewpoints, modes of expression, gender identities, activism and so forth we’ve got our work cut out for us but we’re excited at the possibilities. 

The Art of Tivaevae is a series of photographs of tivaevae from the collection of Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira on display in Britomart's Te Ara Tahuhu until mid-June.