As a textile artist and also a visitor assistant working at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham I am always pleased when the artworks are textile based so am particularly loving the current exhibiton Tapa: Barkcloth Paintings from the Pacific. Dating from the 19th century until the present day the cloths come from Papua New Guinea, the Soloman Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands and are on loan from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University (MAA) which numbers almost 2000 in their collection.
Made from the inner bark of the Mulberry tree the women islanders would gather together in groups to soak and beat the bark into metres of cloth which would then be painted using natural plant dyes and made into everyday clothing, mats, blankets, ceremonial dress for weddings and funerals or wealth objects which would be offered to visiting clans from other islands.
|Cook Islands, Aitutaki, Late 19th Century|
|Samoa, Early 20th Century|
|Papua New Guinea, Early 20th Century|
The tradition is still being kept alive and in Papua New Guinea a group of women are adapting the ancient tradition to create contemporary artworks such as the one below where the artist has used a traditonal tattoo design to decorate the barkcloth.
|Papua New Guinea, Omie (by Dapeni Jonevari) 2011|
Tapa images are courtesy of the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, University Of Cambridge
Also at Ikon in the 2nd Floor Galleries is an exhibition by acclaimed French artist Francois Morellet (b.1926) comprising of a selection of paintings made originally in 2006 for an exhibition in Paris called Blow-Up, Quand j’etais petit je ne faisais pas grand and so called as they are replicas of his work from an exhibition dating back to 1952 but scaled up to 4:1.
Morellet is a self-taught artist who turned to abstract art in the 1950s using systems, rules and geometric forms which were influenced by his love of the tapa barkcloths.
The elements and motifs from the Tapa are ones I am hoping to use in my own textile and mixed-media work as the designs will lend themselves perfectly to printing and painting onto fabric and I am looking forward to producing a body of work as a direct response to the Tapa Barkcloths.
I can highly recommend a visit to both the Tapa and Francois Morellet exhibitions which run till 14th July.