current stretcher TWCDC public art drawings


A series of 12 fabric "cloaks"


This series is based on cloaks, symbols of status as well as functional and ceremonial coverings in society. These cloaks have magical meaning, they clothe the body as well as represent power.

The project was inspired by the transformations of Maori cloaks as the Pakehas (non-Maori peoples) began to infiltrate Maori (normal/man) society. Pieces engage with the mix of clothing and cultural symbols that emerged when the two cultures became enmeshed. I began this series after reading the book Maori: A Photographic and Social History by Michael King* as well as various other books on Maori culture and encountering the amazing cloths in the fabric stores in Palmerston North and Masterton. (This all happened while I was on a residency program in New Zealand in summer 2001.)

cloaks maori women
cloak tartan

My interests lie in what is behind cultural items, in how they are conceived and perceived. I am also interested in breaking down the boundaries between fine art and everyday life. Here it is the combining of materials and meaning in the coming together of these two disparate cultures. Wool blankets introduced by the Europeans made their way into Maori life, and replaced the feather and dogskin cloaks in everyday wear. Instead of wool blankets, I use artificial furs and synthetic flannels, re-interpreting the mixture of materials, creating a new cloak paralleling the continual re-interpretation of the relations between Maori and Pakeha.

Various materials used, including safety pins, symbolize the precarious joining of two different cultures or the often desperate holding on to onešs own culture. I also use camouflage prints to represent the resistance that many Maori had (and have) to the negative impact on their communities brought by the coming of the Europeans and to the battles that ensued, battles that perhaps continue in other guises today.

Mixing the delicate with the hardy, heavy felts, fleeces and plaids (referencing the wool blankets)* are combined with delicate ornamentation inspired by the surface designs of tassles (hukahuka)**, thrums, feathers and pompoms on Maori cloaks. There is also an emphasis on the borders and collars of the coverings.

This project raises very real issues regarding appropriation as many companies from Microsoft to Lego have recently tried to capitalize on Maori images and symbols. My aim, by contrast, is to present this mix of cultural meanings as a way to explore issues surrounding these appropriations using the potent symbol of the cloak which can serve both to shelter and to announce status.

camo net
maori man

**page 40 in Maori Weaving by Erenora Puketapu-Hetet, Longman Auckland, 1999 Surface ornamentation can be woven in the weave -- such as feathers, pompoms, tags, hukahuka (tassles), karure (curled tassles) and fringing. These are usually woven in one whenu and with the next whenu looped up and woven in again.

sewing box

*page 74 in Maori: A Photographic and Social History by Michael King Reed Books, Auckland, New Zealand, 1983 Traditional Maori clothing had gone out of general use by the 1850s (and much earlier in communities involved in whaling and trading and those close to European settlements)... Traditional garments made from flax, flax-type plants and dog skins had been time-consuming to prepare and had not provided satisfactory protection and warmth. Blankets were welcomed as a means of keeping warm at night without having to rely entirely on fires inside houses without chimneys, which had detrimental effects on eyesight and lungs. Blankets were also adopted widely as garments: typically one around the waist would serve as a skirt or kilt, one around the shoulders as a shawl; people also took to wearing them toga fashion, in imitation of traditional cloaks. As the century wore on traditional clothing - cloaks, waist mats, flax skirts and so on- came to be used exclusively as ceremonial costume. They would often be worn as part of haka and action-song performances; or, in the case of cloaks, placed over European dress to emphasize the person's Maori identity or rank within the Maori community.