Falehanga ‘i Teleiloa presesnts a Ngatu tā’uli to the Queensland Art Gallery

A group of more than 14 Tongan artists assembled at Mangere Arts Centre in South Auckland today to present a specially commissioned ngatu tā’uli (black-marked barkcloth), to representatives of the Queensland Art Gallery here in Brisbane.

In a special ceremony, the 22 metre ngatu tā’uli was presented to a delegation which included Queensland Art Gallery’s Director Tony Ellwood and the Queensland Government’s Minister for The Arts, Rachel Nolan MP.

Delegates at the handing over of the ngatu tā’uli. Photograph by Sangeeta Singh

The Queensland Art Gallery has commissioned the significant work as one of several major new collection acquisitions to mark the 5th anniversary of the opening of Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art.

The commission to produce the work was awarded to the Mangere based Tongan women’s fine arts group, Falehanga ‘i Teleiloa, earlier this year and has taken around three months to complete.

Immediately following the ceremony the bark cloth will travel to Queensland to be featured in the exhibition Threads: Contemporary Textiles and the Social Fabric on display at the Gallery of Modern Art from October 1, 2011 to February 5, 2012.

Queensland Art Gallery Director Tony Ellwood said he was honoured to be receiving the major ngatu tā’uli as the latest addition to the Gallery‟s growing collection of contemporary Asian, Pacific and Australian textiles.

“We appreciate the creation of this spectacular bark cloth has been a major undertaking and we know it will be enjoyed by Gallery audiences now and into the future.”

The Falehanga ‘i Teleiloa group was established in August 2010 to ensure that Tongan women’s fine arts continue to be practiced and maintained here in New Zealand, but also with an emphasis on preserving and passing on this wealth of knowledge to the younger members of the group.

Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai, treasurer of the art group and project manager for the commission, said the work was created collaboratively with Tongan women artists from the village of Tatakamotonga in Tonga who are strongly connected to the women in the Falehanga ‘i Teleiloa group.

The Falehanga ‘i Teleiloa group in New Zealand working on the ngatu tā’uli. Photograph courtesy of Kolokesa Mahina-Tuai

“To create the ngatu tā‟uli the women in Tonga provided the natural red koka plant pigment and wide strips of plain barkcloth. The women in the Falehanga ‘i Teleiloa group then joined the strips together to produce the 22 metre length, which was coated in red pigment with the central motif – the amoamokofe (caressing-bamboo and an abstraction of a bamboo healing device) – stenciled on.

Later the fakafo’ihea (hea fruits or an abstraction of the male and female reproductive organs) was drawn on and then given a few more layers of red pigment together with the amoamokofe design. Finally, the ngatu (barkcloth or tapa) was painted black along with the remaining motifs – vakatou (double-hulled canoe) and muimoa (chicken tail).

“A total of 17 women were involved in making the ngatu tā’uli here in New Zealand – the oldest being 83 years old and the youngest 17.”

“The group was fortunate enough to have women with 20 to 60 years of experience in the fine art of making ngatu.” said Kolokesa.

“They were able to offer valuable guidance and advice to the rest of the group, particularly the younger members who were experiencing the making of ngatu for the first time.”

The women in the group live in Mangere, Otahuhu, Papatoetoe, Mt Roskill, Mt Albert and Mt Eden.

Kolokesa said around 600 hours of work was invested in its production here in New Zealand alone.

“But there would have been many more hours involved in making the natural red pigment and strips of plain barkcloth by the women in Tonga.” she said.

The group also worked together with multimedia artist Sēmisi Fetokai Potauaine who designed the spatial layout of the fakafo’ihea (hea fruits) and amoamokofe (caressing-bamboo) motifs that feature on the black painted section of the barkcloth.

Sēmisi was one of five consultants who Kolokesa consulted prior to and throughout the duration of the commission. The other four are three women in the group – Sepi Lokotui, Melaia Tupou and Manuēsina Tōnata, and Hūfanga Dr ‘Okusitino Māhina.

“The high standard and quality of the work benefitted greatly from their advice and guidance,” said Kolokesa.

“They brought in a wealth of expertise in terms of their cultural and intellectual knowledge of Tongan arts, language and specifically knowledge and experience in making ngatu tā’uli.”

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