The Cook Islands: Art and Culture Alive and Well

For the people of the Cook Islands, heritage, tradition and culture are still vital and integral aspects of everyday life.

Locals have begun to realise the growing potential and interest of transforming cultural activities and ways of life into tourism opportunities. Too often is the case that young islanders make the move to more prosperous destinations, such as New Zealand and Australia, in search of money and careers.

Nowadays some of the more prominent members of the community are re-focusing their attentions on more traditional methods to sustain a living and at the same time encouraging the younger generations to take an interest in their heritage.

Tokerau Jim, 36, is leading the charge on this frontier, owning and operating his carved black-pearl jewellery business on the island of Rarotonga. Jim is extremely passionate and dedicated to his work and attempts to etch a little history and a whole lot of meaning into his artwork.

Tokerau Jim at work

“I absolutely love what I do. It’s unbelievably rewarding to create something that is profitable and in keeping with practices passed down from generation to generation, ensuring a continued respect for our local culture,” says Jim.

Jim’s business is world renowned and his website is flooded daily with potential buyers and intrigued travellers, wishing to understand the impressive art of black-pearl carving.

“This is the best way for me to help the young kids on the islands come to terms with their background and develop an interest in Cook Islands customs. I’m looking to expand my business in the near future and offer workshops to locals and tourists, so they can create their own, unique carvings and walk away with something even more special… a memory.”

Watching Tokerau Jim work is a real privilege, as you are able to witness the intricacy, respect and devotion Jim embeds into every piece of jewellery he creates. For such a monstrous man, Jim’s precise and sensitive touch is a bewildering vision. He manages to effortlessly carve detailed patterns, motifs and designs upon the smallest of fragile shells.

Artistry and culture is a blossoming industry in the Cook Islands and residents are now discovering inventive ways of exposing their work on a global scale. Andrea Eimke is an artist living and working on the small, quaint island of Atiu, yet her art is receiving international attention.

Andrea’s artwork will be on display in the Sydney Powerhouse Museum during June 2011. She will be competing for the Lace Award Exhibition prize. Andrea’s art is based on a synthesis of Polynesian and European materials and techniques, inspired by her life on Atiu. She creates mosaics, hand-made jewellery, textiles – including remarkable tivaivai – and much more. Stepping into Andrea’s gallery is like entering an alternate universe.

Andrea Eimke - Dress

“I love to contrast hard and soft natural materials to form art.

“I’m so very proud of my accomplishments, yet even prouder still that Cook Islands artistry is being recognised on the world stage, which is fantastic for our tourism,” says Andrea.

Artists within the Cook Islands are beginning to research, develop and create new visual languages, expressing their ideas and imagination through art and placing an emphasis on traditionalist methods whilst still remaining original.

It is hoped this wave of expressionism and natural artistry will inspire the younger generations to remain in the Cooks and materialise their potential, developing a skill for life and capturing the same passion their ancestors once embodied.

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