Tabatha Forbes’ exhibition at the BCA was an evening of hospitality, friendship, beautiful music and dance, and wonderful art.
Here are a few images:
Tabatha’s opening night speech, BCA Gallery, Tuesday 13th November 2012
“While this exhibition looks very similar to my earlier work which is also partially on display tonight, there are a few key differences to this year’s project that I wanted to share with you.
Firstly the project stems from a promise I made to myself nearly 2o years ago as an undergrad student at Auckland University. I spent a year studying world music with a focus on the pacific and a fascination with the Cook Islands. I joined a cook island drumming group and vowed to travel to the cooks one day to study the music in depth. All these years later I’m finally here and surprisingly, it has been the journey of the ukulele and not the drums that has rekindled my interest in the music of the pacific.
Secondly it was my intention to make the project multi-faceted; it’s easy keep doing what you know, but this project took me out of my artists cave and over to my neighbours workshop where I had the opportunity to work on my ideas and learn something of the instrument making itself. Having completely different perspectives and in a sense trying to learn something from each other’s work was just one of the great moments and challenges. This background interest to the project also took me to the Rarotongan prison where I interviewed the head craftsman and warden there and learnt something of the inclusion of workmanship in the rehabilitation of some prison inmates. The story behind the idea is always what makes a project for me. Wanting to get ukulele included in Te Uki Ou Schools culture classes and learn to play myself was also on my wish list.
Conceptually, Giveaways continues with the idea of historical introductions within both, nature and culture, this time taking the very current UKULELE icon in an attempt to reposition the instrument as an artefact of both cultural and historical value in the making.
The name of the show GIVEAWAYS refers to a Hawaiian translation of the word ukulele. While ‘ukulele’ is said to mean ‘jumping flea’ referring to the style of play jumping from string to string, it has also been said that last monarch of Hawaii Queen Lili ‘ukolani said that it translated to ‘the gift that came here’. Whether a correct translation or not, it’s the idea of the ‘gift’ that has captured my imagination.
Introduced to Hawaii first from the Portuguese in the late 1800’s, the uke in the pacific has been received and developed by many islands in Polynesia in uniquely different ways.
While the developments are relatively recent history, no one would question that they are an important part of music and industry here.
Part of my motivation for looking at uke making has come from my belief that the practice of art and craft in the pacific, while perceived by many visitors as ‘souvenirs’ is hugely significant in representing the time, place and people working and living here today.
I’ve been thinking about how a visitor might buy an instrument and then take it home to put on the wall or mantelpiece. While the ukulele that we often see for sale include reminders of the island with words such as ‘kia orana’ or ‘Rarotonga’ as well as coconut palms and sunsets painted onto their surfaces, it’s worth remembering that they are always fully functioning instruments and their makers have taken care to develop their own preferred style of sound as well as their signature art work or carving.
Significantly, the ukes in this exhibition are without sound; they are not presented here as instruments for sale as they are in the shops and markets around the Island. They are presented as ‘artefacts’ in an attempt to shift the view a little and state clearly that this is not another appropriation but rather an outsider’s perspective on a practice worth celebrating and valuing here and now as well as in the future.
Projects like this never exist in isolation and the work you see would not have been possible without the skill and patience of my friend and neighbour Teau. Thank you also to BCA Gallery and to Te Uki Ou School for supporting my idea to add ukulele to their already excellent C.I Maori lessons, and for allowing me to commission Teau to help create 10 coconut ukes for the schools resources. A big thank you to Jeff Vinicombe for his photography and processing work as well as Adrian at Rarotongan Printers, George and Jenna for their framing at Picture Paradise, my beautiful family and friends and always, to Rarotonga for having me!
My full acknowledgments and respect also to the instrument makers and musicians of Rarotonga.
Limited Edition Prints
Opening 6pm, Tuesday November 13th
“My first show at BCA last year Takeaways was predominantly concerned with the early barter between the indigenous Pacific Islanders and the early European ships: specifically the taking away and the leaving behind of certain objects /plants /animals in the South Pacific.
“Giveaways continues with the idea of historical introductions within both nature and culture, this time taking the very current UKULELE icon and creating a project that attempts to reposition it as an artefact of both cultural and historical value in the making.
“After designing the ukes (with reference to their musical origins in Portugal, Hawaii and Tahiti) I commissioned an Atiuan craftsman to make 6 in the ‘Polynesian Ukulele’ style, using three different native timbers. The works act in reflection, illustrating the plant of the timber but also demonstrating the shift in perception by use of materials, application and context. The painted ukes are my attempt at a contemporary representation while their wooden pairs are in a way a tribute to the craftsman’s beautiful work, and to the timber and plant itself which I have tried to highlight by burning the drawings into their wooden surface.
“Once again, it’s about how we value culture and environment, and how the changes in those values are influenced by the popular thought and trends of the day. I strongly believe that the practice of art and craft in the Pacific, while perceived by many visitors as ‘souvenirs’ are hugely significant in representing the time, place and people working and living here today. Significantly, the ukes in this exhibition are not presented here as instruments for sale as they are in the shops and market around the Cook Islands. They are presented as ‘artefacts’in an attempt to shift the view a little and state clearly that this is not another appropriation but rather an outsider’s interpretation of a practice worth celebrating and valuing here and now.”
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