Reviews, News and Commentary

“Amui ‘I Mu‘a – Ancient Futures” linking traditional and contemporary Tongan art

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Amui ‘I Mu‘a – Ancient Futures

Dagmar Vaikalafi Dyck and Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi

Wallace Arts Centre, Pah Homestead,

12 March – 2 May 2021

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

As part of the  ‘Amui ‘I Mu‘a – Ancient Futures exhibition at the Wallace arts Centre there is a video of the  funeral of  King Taufa’ahan Tupou IV in 2006 which encapsulates much of contradictions, connections and complexities of Tongan society. European ideas, Christianity and traditional island practices, ceremonies and symbols merge creating rich cultural forms. The exhibition features these same connections between  tradition and contemporary. There are some large traditional tapa works as well as other Tongan artefacts from various  museums including works from Auckland War Memorial Museum and Canterbury Museum.

Ngatu Tāhina: Figures and tree
barkcloth and natural inks
Reverend MA Rugby-Pratt Collection Canterbury Museum. E156.241

These feature the growing assimilation of idea as can be seen in one of the early twentieth century tapa works such as Ngatu Tāhina: Figures and Trees  and “Ngatu Tapa’ingatu: Gramophones and clocks “  showing images of gramophones and clocks.

These earlier works are displayed  along with the  contemporary responses in the form of paintings, digital prints, and sculptural works by Dagmar Vaikalafi Dyck, Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi  who have worked in collaboration with  with art historian and anthropologist Billie Lythberg, historian anthropologist Phyllis Herda and linguist Melenaite Taumoefolau from the University of Auckland as well as art historian Hilary L. Scothorn and other international colleagues.

Dyck is a Tongan-German multimedia artist. Born and raised in Auckland, where she practices and teaches art maintaining strong connection with Tonga. Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi was born in Ngele‘ia on Tongatapu, Tonga and emigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand in 1978.

Both artists have long drawn on aspects of  Tongan tradition such as lalava lashing patterns, kali headrests, ngatu barkcloth motifs and kiekie waist adornments.

Tohi has had a life long interest in lalava patterns as well as the finely incised carving of late-18th-century Tongan clubs to uncover what he refers to as a ‘fibre system’ of knowledge, with rules, orders and schema.

The lalava  patterns can be seen in some of the museum exhibits such as the woven  basket on display as well Tohi’s “Haukulasi”, his contemporary version of the designs. 

He has also turned the lalava designs into three dimensional  versions where the sculptural form could be seen as being an ancient  example of carving or a contemporary experimental design.  

The designs  of paddle clubs are evident in his abstract work “Pulefefine” with its dramatic colours owing as much to the European and American  geometric art.

Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi, Pulefefine

He has also analysed 18th-century kali, the headrest for sleeping and resting. He has created his own versions of the object with one in particular elegant one is inlaid with small bone symbols of the heavens.

Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi , Kali

This interest in the heavens and navigation which is often found in Pacific art is also reflected in his  set of photographic images of the moon where the celestial body becomes the guiding body for all mariners.

Known for her dynamic prints and paintings that often draw from the kupesi designs on ngatu (mulberry) fabric. Dyck has drawn new and significant inspiration from the garments worn by her ancestors. She has continued her exploration of ngatu motifs and closely woven kato alu and kato mosikaka baskets, as well as elaborately feathered sisi fale waist garments and kiekie, fala mats, and helu combs.

Her works use these images in paintings and prints combining images of domestic  objects, along with traditional patterns  and geometric designs, intricately layering historical and contemporary references.  In the case of the large painting “Markers of Community” where one painting is overlaid with another the drama of contemporary patterns interwoven with those of the traditional.

Dagmar Dyck, Markers of Community

Several of her large tapestries made of paper which is  handwoven and sewn  (assisted by Alexis Neal and Nilesh Salwaswala) refer to traditional decoration and  acknowledge the communal making of many Tongan women’s arts,

Dagmar Dyck, Alexis Neal and Nilesh Salwaswala

She has led the creation of a multimedia installation with her sister, Luana Dyck, and photo-filmic artists and sisters Emily and Vea Mafile‘o. These contemporary works, made for the gallery, are complemented by and exhibited in conversation with a selection of historical Tongan artefacts from public collections.

Public programme

Thursday 8 April at 7pm, ‘10 x ten – Celebrating Tongan Artists’ brings together Tongan artists with ten x 10-minute informative discussions.

Participating artists include Dyck, Tohi, TK Hards, Kalisolaite ‘Uhila, and Tui Gillies.

1pm, Saturday 10 April, 1pm

Catalogue Launch. This event includes talks by Dyck and Tohi.

Saturday 24 April – 10am to 3pm.

Community Day at the Wallace Arts Centre. An interactive event, offering children and adults hands-on creative experiences and featuring activities with a Tongan flavour, including a chance to learn some lashing techniques with Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi.

Wednesday 28 April 7pm

A Modern Tongan  Dinner

A celebration of modern Tongan cuisine with a three-course seated dinner at the drawing room of the Pah Homestead where the exhibition is shown. This will be a unique experience where Tongan art and culture collides with culinary originality by chef Beau Louis Takapu. $150 per couple or $80 single.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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