This exhibition celebrates the development of the Cook Island tivaevae. The tivaevae in this exhibition were created by women from the Kuki Airangi Angaanga Tupuna Trust, Ōtara tutored by Matarena George. Many of the historical tivaevae are from Matarena George’s collection, These have been supplemented by historical American and European quilts and historical tivaevae from the Auckland Institute and Museum. Also on display are contemporary New Zealand quilts by Malcolm Harrison and Anna Bibby.
The making of piecework and applique tivaevae is a common feature throughout the Pacific including the Hawaiian, Tahitian, the Cook and Marquesas Islands and Aotearoa New Zealand. This exhibition explores and celebrates the traditions and innovations of the quilts known as ‘tivaevae’ of the Cook Islands.
The word tivaevae literally means to patch repeatedly, but in general it refers to the Polynesian piecework and applique types of quiltmaking. In the exhibition, the origins of the tivaevae are considered. Their introduction was due partially to various forms of western quilting traditions brought to the Hawaiian islands by the European and American missionaries in the 1820’s. The skills introduced here were quickly adapted and developed throughout Polynesia. Tivaevae-making became an integral part of cultural activity and has in some ways supplemented the production of tapa cloth.
The tivaevae fall within two descriptive groups: tivaevae taorei or tivaevae manu. The piecework quilts are known as tivaevae taorei. They are made from small pieces of cotton cloth either a square or hexagonal shape and usually sewn together by hand. This top then has a backcloth attached to hide the raw edges. The applique quilts are known as tivaevae manu. The design is cut from one or more colours and appliqued onto a background cloth. The design is cut freehand from a square of fabric folded into quarters or eighths.
Within each island group there are individual traditions and design, and the tivaevae vary enormously in appearance and methods of making. The working of a tivaevae is a collaborate effort, where one woman will create and cut out a design but a group will usually piece applique the whole together. This will often take over a year as the details become complex.
In the Cook Islands the traditions of tivaevae are still strong, where young girls are taught the skills by mothers, grandmothers and aunts. Many of the histories and ways of making are highly guarded, as the makers are very competitive over the creation of new patterns for exhibition.
Matarena George, who contributed a large number of the tivaevae being exhibited, was born in the Cook Islands and learnt her art-form there. She shared her knowledge with groups of young girls born in Aotearoa New Zealand who were not brought up with the skills.
The ways of making tivaevae in Aotearoa New Zealand are changing and developing as the art-form finds interpretations and techniques that relate to the new experiences of this country. The vitality of tivaevae in the tradition of quiltmaking continues.
Looking back: A threaded herstory
“Formerly known as Fisher Gallery, Te Tuhi has been home to artwork by significant Pacific artists: Kalisolaite ‘Uhila to Jeremy Leatinu’u, Christina Pataialii and the late Jim Vivieaere. As early as the 1980s, Te Tuhi was an organisation that reflected the shifting context of Aotearoa as a place that was grappling with its identity as part of the Pacific region. In 1989, curator Louis Johnston worked closely with the late Matarena George to develop the exhibition Pacific Threads, a celebration of Cook Islands tīvaevae (quilt making). The exhibition showcased tīvaevae made by women from the Kuki Airani Angaanga Tupuna Trust in Ōtara as well as tīvaevae from Matarena’s personal collection. Interestingly, the exhibition extended its focus to include quilt works by Aotearoa New Zealand’s foremost craft artists such as Malcolm Harris, as well as tīvaevae, Hawaiian kapa kuiki (bed covers) and American quilts from Auckland Museum’s collection. Looking back, one could easily become fixated on the inclusion of a broad range of artworks that sought to find affinities between distinct people, practices and cultures. Alternatively, could it be that tīvaevae was viewed as part of the growing applied arts field within contemporary art in Aotearoa?
But, perhaps, we can also see these types of exhibitions (that were few and far between) as small yet significant acts from these Mamas, who worked towards the visibility and recognition of customary artforms. This understanding relies on us to mine the archive and thread together these art historical events, in order to make a new herstory.”
– Ane Tonga, Curator Pacific Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2020
→ Pacific Threads, 1989, exhibition poster
→ Pacific Threads, 1989, exhibition card
→ Pacific Quilts: New Zealand’s only quilting magazine, June 1989 No. 2
→ Cook Islands skill displayed, Eastern Courier, 01-03-1989
→ Colours will knock your socks off, New Zealand Herald, 09-03-1989
→ ARTS Metro 41