Creating from the ‘in-between’ space
In 1818, HMS Kangaroo took Nga Puhi men Tuai and Titere to England and it is this cultural exchange between European and Maori that artist Jo Torr explores in costume and textile history.
Five works in Torr's exhibition, Te Hono Wai – Where Waters Meet, at Tairawhiti Museum, highlight the experiences of Tuai and Titere.
Torr used the prepared flax fibre, muka, to embroider the motif of a “man-kite” on the back of a frock coat, similar in design to those worn by the two men in portraits painted by James Barry in London. The image, taken from a letter Titere wrote home, suggests his yearning to travel back to his people, says Torr.
“They were sick, and homesick. Anything in the air is a link to the gods and atua. There's a theory that by drawing this he was sending messages home.”
Reverend Samuel Marsden sponsored Tuai and Titere's voyage to England where, over 11 months, the two young men stayed in London, Shropshire and Kent.
“When Tuai and Titere were in England they were hosted by church missionaries and adopted European dress and hairstyles,” says Torr.
“They went to parties and were known for wearing native cloth and demonstrating the haka.
“I think of my works as sculpture. It challenges the idea of what sculpture is.”
Included in the exhibition are two garments that hang side by side.
One is created from linen, a textile made of flax fibre that is very different from New Zealand flax; the other is a harakeke cloak Torr wove herself.
The linen cloth is a found item Torr embroidered with a repeated man-kite motif. The clothes-hooks Torr uses to hang the items from are also made from found objects.
“The pegs are from the handles of old tools like screwdrivers. I just wanted the patina on them.
“I come to this work with a Pakeha view but I'm interested in the in- between space, while recognising the other.”