From Saturday 25 September until Sunday 25 October Richard Cooper is exhibiting his work Te Aua Tiare, The Garden of Flowers, at the Fisher Gallery. Te Aua Tiare, The Garden of Flowers is an exhibition of contemporary sculpture. using both traditional Pacific culture and contemporary western sculpture traditions.
When the missionaries and other western travellers arrived in the Cook Islands in the early nineteenth century, they brought with them the skills of patchwork and quiltmaking which they taught. The Cook Island quilts are known as tivaevae, commonly made up of sewn-on colourful flowers. A flower that appeals to Richard Cooper is the hibiscus flower. Today you see it printed on shirts, lavalava, quilts as well as a myriad other items representing the islands. It is worn behind ones ear in a ceremonial way and is a symbol of a way of life, woven into these missionary inspired quilts.
Rather than sewing up a tivaevae, Richard Cooper has made free standing, large, hibiscus flowers from metal sheet and manuka stems, lashed together with flax. He has placed them around the gallery space, using the landscape as his quilt - all those that walk around it are part of it. Cooper has created this installation for the Fisher Gallery, the contemporary art museum for Manukau City.
Cooper’s concept is based in the importance of the family. He is concerned with social values and the development of the communities in New Zealand. ‘When you plant a seed you are hoping that it will grow into beautiful flowers. However it won’t happen on its own. It needs water, soil, sunlight, protection. It needs to be nurtured, and weeded to remove the weeds that try to stop it from growing. This is exactly like our children. As parents we are responsible for raising our children in the best way we can. With much love, patience, encouragement, support. This work can be seen as an example. We can help nurture these flowers to grow. To make society a better place. Statistics prove that South Auckland is suffering from a decay of social structures with high crime rates and youth suicide.’ - Richard Cooper
This exhibition puts an answer from home, incorporating the complexity of Cook island history and the idea of a contemporary Cook Island culture in the one symbol: the hibiscus. The tivaevae Richard Cooper has made is created out of contemporary domestic materials. The quilt and wooden applique is made from recycled rimu weatherboards. These were once a house, or a shelter that was a home to a South Auckland family before demolition.
The exhibition also includes fifty life size flowers, representing the blossoming of our children. The materials, although not as organic as the original flowers, will have a life-span roughly equal to the human life span before they deteriorate.
Richard Cooper hopes to encourage a better education and to encourage children to focus on a career. Many family members and friends have come here from the islands to focus on a better education and career. The Cook Island community has grafted into the New Zealand environment. This installation is in itself a meeting place for contemporary art practice and Cook Island culture.
Te Aua Tiare, The Garden of Flowers, was a name given by Cooper’s mother who was born in Aitutaki, Cook Islands, to whom he expresses his gratitude for nurturing him like a flower.
→ Richard Cooper: Te Aua Tiare, 1998, exhibition brochure
→ Richard Cooper: Te Aua Tiare, 1998, exhibition card