So what is that? Let’s remain in this state of enquiry, as eight contemporary women artists whet our curiosities with their object/installation work. From mixed-Pacific ancestry, the artists include: the established Leafa Wilson, Loloma Andrews, Lonnie Hutchinson, Niki Hastings-McFall, Loretta Young, Lina Marsh, Leanne Clayton through to newly graduated Letufa Taniela.
Rather than a prosaic answer to ‘What’s that?’—a question demanding simplified statements—the artists present work for further contemplation. My architectural eye is trained to analyse scale and detail, which—in working with our title—is quite an empirical analysis. Ironically it is this consideration of scale and detail observed in the artists’ work, which provides a common framework for examination and understanding.
Drawn into the aura of the pieces, the artists force us to shift physically in relationship to their work so we may begin to intelligently engage its meaning. Hutchinson and Marsh’s small-scale objects with intricate detail, literally needs close observation. Without this craftily coercion, such minute details, as Hutchinson describes, ‘Scary Spice…getting off on herself’ incised onto her comb or the reference to Lapita motifs in Marsh’s lacey lei could easily be glossed over. Andrews’s ‘Cultural Blanket’ inspired by recent travels; Young’s organic prints on pleated fabric—a contemporary interpretation of the laupola, or the coconut fronds of a Samoan fale and Wilson’s protective tarpaulin forms are installations at a more human scale. Wilson’s protruding guitar-form and Andrew’s tartan woollen blanket further enhance this familiar scale, which continue to cradle intimately our curiosities. Conversely, Clayton and Hastings-McFall present installations of a slightly magnified scale to the typical. Clayton’s oversized ‘Puddle Brooches’ collect her memoirs of ‘Samoana’ whilst immersing us into her ‘personalised’ memorabilia. Hastings-McFall’s ‘Nuclear Rosary’ becomes more tactile and luminous to visually resound her mantra about colonial interventions—Catholicism and nuclear warfare—in Samoa.
The object/installation works are expressive of the human hand that crafted it. Clearly the works are not merely objects but an extension of the object-maker: her stories and persuasions. As a designer I value this distinct personal aesthetic of embedded meaning, which is more enlightening than an anonymous parasitic form of ornamentation. In engaging such intricacies we begin to understand the artist’s identity, particularly in the milieu of Aotearoa’s urban Pacific and island homeland. In this contemporary setting, these Pacific artists continue the work of their female ancestors—wahine, ta’ahine or women expressing themselves through stories and ideas embedded in their material work. So, in answering our curiosities, the artists respond in quite the customary manner: engage my narrative for further contemplation.
Architectural designer, researcher and educator based in Auckland.