Artist Maryann Talia Pau reports on her first solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria entitled Fashioning the Mana; coinciding with the L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program. The exhibition is an installation of four of her body adornment pieces inspired by the tapa denim outfit H'nard K'nore G'nang G'near, 1995 - 1997 created by another Samoan artist, Rosanna Raymond.
Maryann Talia Pau
If anyone had have told me seven months ago that my work as an emerging artist would show in three of Australia's prestigious galleries I would have laughed and replied, "Well, yeah! And I know this because I'm ready." Brave or naive, too early, too late, it really doesn't matter. Last July I chose to step further into the world with my art, feeling strong and broken, confident and scared all at the same time. Only one thing mattered I had to make. Everything else would make sense later. Words would come later. And they did, through stories, friendships and articles. I currently make large body adornment pieces drawing on a mixture of Samoan and Pacific handicraft techniques and materials.
My adventures as an emerging artist so far, have involved three group exhibitions and my first solo exhibition Fashioning the Mana which is now showing at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). Coinciding with the L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program, Fashioning the Mana is an installation of four of my body adornment pieces inspired by the tapa denim outfit H'nard K'nore G'nang G'near, 1995 - 1997 created by another Samoan artist, Rosanna Raymond. My work is the first contemporary adornment by a Pacific woman for the NGV and it is the first work by a Pacific Island woman to be shown in the Oceanic Gallery.
Fashioning the Mana began as a little idea in October last year. I asked to meet with Sana Balai, the curator for Pacific Art and the assistant curator for Indigenous Art. I wanted to introduce myself, to have coffee and a yarn with her about the Gallery's Pacific collection. I planned to mention to her my idea for making new adornment inspired and connected to Rosanna Raymond's outfit (which is part of the NGV's permanent collection) but it wasn't the sole purpose for our meeting. What began essentially as a desire to reach out and connect with Pacific art here in Melbourne had quickly turned into a collaborative effort to bring new Pacific life into the NGV. I knew I was pushing it when I approached the NGV's International Fashion and Textiles department, where Rosanna's jeans are held. I could imagine them saying: "You want to do an exhibition here at NGV International next year in March! It's October! That's 4 months away!!!" I knew that exhibitions can take at least 12 months to organise and for the NGV it can take up to three years. I had to try. I believed in my work and the project so much that I couldn't NOT ask. And I'm so glad I did. Sometimes I look back and think, "How on earth did I even have the audacity to propose such a thing at such a late hour." In the words of Rosanna Raymond, who I have gained as a friend and mentor and who has been so generous with her time and wisdom, "I think the tupuna (ancestors) are really making this happen." Rosanna's jeans come out of storage and get to sashay in the Oceanic Gallery and I get to show my work alongside an artist who I have admired for years. I have also developed strong relationships with the Curators of Indigenous Art and International Fashion and Textiles. My first solo exhibition has been a thrilling and fast paced journey indeed!
Not long ago my first exhibition was at Craft Victoria last August, a selected group exhibition called Perspective. A good friend said I should "check it out". I did more than that, I was selected and I made a breast plate called Fa'amolemole, pe mafai ona tatou lalaga faatasi? Samoan for, Please, can I weave with you? Soon after, I made a new breastplate called Mo lo'u Tama which in Samoan means, For My Dad, to enter in Object Gallery's Precious Pendants a selection of 40 Australian jewellers. I was notified of my success in September and I was ready to put up my feet up and raise my glass after a tremendous first year, rather, few months of making and showing. But, I couldn't stop then. I had all this work bursting to get out. Designs and ideas I have carried around for years still relevant and beautiful. And so began the makings of Fashioning the Mana.
My latest adventure is another group exhibition called ex.o.dus opening in Blacktown, NSW April 10 curated by Nicole Foreshew. Included are artists Vicki West, Tracey Huxford, Tigidankay Daramy and Lucy Simpson, all prominent women creating beautiful work that comments on our lands, shifting identities and values as Indigenous women. ex.o.dus looks at the materials we use in our current environments and challenges us to think conceptually about the idea of departure as a practicing fibre and textile artist. For me, the idea of departure is just as important as the concept of arrival and the time and movement in between. My installation piece focuses on the 'ie toga', Samoan fine mat, a finely woven mat from dried pandanus originally made by women. The 'ie toga ' is a precious material for our people, one used during ceremony and for exchange. It is one of two textiles that I am very passionate about, the other being 'siapo', our bark cloth. I am excited about ex.o.dus because it is opportunity to participate in conversations that are really important to me. Why are our handicrafts so important to us? How can we contribute to a well-formed and inclusive society that values and acknowledges the work of women? How can we connect with what is and what isn't? Interesting things to wrestle with when my life is full with young children, a partner and a workspace that is also our dining table! Trying as it is, I know I wouldn't and couldn't have it any other way and I continue to look forward, and get excited about new possibilities and new adventures.
My work embodies 'mana', a Samoan word meaning ancestral and spiritual power. 'Mana' is an important and powerful concept in many Polynesian cultures and is crucial to my understanding of my work. Mana is always referenced to, always located and always felt when I envisage or make work. It is the foundation, the undeniable and the dynamic driving force for my art.
Born in Samoa, Maryann Talia Pau grew up in Auckland, Aotearoa NZ and then Melbourne, Australia. Maryann is an artist and a maker with a passion for Samoan art and craft. Her work begins with jewellery and body adornment under her label Mana Couture. Each piece is inspired by her love for her heritage, people and island home, Samoa. Mana Couture embodies mana and respect for the handmade and honours the special story of each design and the materials used. For Maryann, making represents healing and connection, to our families and ancestors before us and to each other across the globe.
Maryann Talia Pau's web site
Maryann Talia Pau is a member of the right way network.