Heads like these once adorned many walls and even sprouted lampshades.
The artist, Sofia Tekela-Smith, uses them to bring to our notice one of the ways that the Polynesian ‘dusky maiden’ was objectified and exoticised by processes that were in play in the 1950s and 60s, when such ‘home decorations’ could be bought from many furnishing stores of the time.
She reclaims these potent images by rejecting the stereotype and instead modelling them on individual people from ‘outsider’ cultures. The cast heads are then welcomed as honoured guests through being adorned with jewellery in much the same way as lei are used in Polynesian society to adorn both people and photographic images of loved ones.
Sofia Tekela-Smith explores ideas of appropriation and re-appropriation, values and identity and challenges concepts of ‘good taste’ while she celebrates her own unique mix of diverse cultures in her art.
She explains - “I create work that represents my connection with my grandmother. The materials I choose to work with are for me the most appropriate medium to reclaim and strengthen cultural ties to my Rotuman heritage. My focus is on creating work that reflects and communicates a visual language of harmony, beauty, strength and spirit.”
→ Sofia Tekela-Smith: Melodies of their Honey Coloured Skin, 2003, exhibition card