Amu'i Mua - Ancient Futures - Dagmar Vaikalafi Dyck, Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi
Contemporary artists, academics and master practitioners of Tongan art celebrate the treasures of the Kingdom of Tonga and the history of their dispersal throughout world institutions and collections.
This book documents two landmark events:
The first, a symposium in Nuku‘alofa, Tonga, in early October 2019, focused on the material culture of Tonga held in public and private collections worldwide. The research team led by Dr. Phyllis Herda, for a project funded by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand, presented findings from their research trips to collections in the USA in 2017, and UK and Europe in 2018 and 2019. The treasures documented are testimony to encounters between European explorers and Tongan chiefly people of the 18th and 19th century.
The second, a major exhibition of works by Dagmar Vaikalafi Dyck and Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi, curated by Nicholas Butler at the Wallace Arts Centre, Pah Homestead in 2021, surveys their diverse art practices from the 1990s to the present. These contemporary artworks, many made in conversation with 18th- and 19th-century Tongan treasures, are exhibited along with Tongan artefacts from the collections of Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira and Canterbury Museum Te Whare Taonga o Ngā Pākihi Whakatekao Waitaha. The exhibition is fully documented in this catalogue by Raymond Sagapolutele’s photography.
As a first generation New Zealander, I was brought up to respect and acknowledge my unique ancestry. Growing up on the North Shore with immigrant parents (my father is German/Dutch and Polish and my mother is Tongan/German) I learned from an early age an appreciation of custom and tradition. Translating and galvanising this traditional and ancestral knowledge is a high priority for me.
There is no escaping the way in which patterns are woven throughout the stories of the Pacific, whether the patterns that appear are bound, knotted, wrapped, plaited, stamped or rubbed using natural and local plant resources, they are simply an essential thread to each of our Pacific nations’ societal structures. The Kingdom of Tonga is no exception.
Tongan derived patterns of the past were produced with raw materials such as coconut palm and pandanus and found on all manner of artefacts within everyday life. Nowhere more exquisite are these patterns found than within the fibre and textile arts, known as ‘koloa’, which are produced predominantly by women. These objects include ngatu, fala, kiekie and kato alu. These are the most prestigious material objects for the Tongan people.
The focus on the importance of women and their role in the production of everyday
household items and those that had a ceremonial status within a Tongan context are
critical aspects in honouring these artisans. As a result I have sought to investigate not only the objects that Tongan women have created but also the multiple meanings in which these objects are expressed or indeed gifted back within their communities. As noted by Graeme Were, ‘Age-old and everyday, threads are a fundamental constituent of social life, and their continued transformation into textiles, baskets, mats and fabrics speaks volumes about their centrality in sustaining cultural beliefs, values and identity in society today.’
The notion that threads can potentially connect or unravel, to educate or celebrate, is also one that can initiate conversation with the wider public. ‘Threaded throughout my work is a visual process that documents the transformation of raw material to woven treasure. The work remains sectionalised as heritage proclaims, but the palette combines the energies and colours of a modern Moana landscape.’