Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows and Tui Emma Gillies are a Tongan New Zealand mother-and-daughter team that make tapa cloth and are scholars of the art. Together they have presented, exhibited and held workshops around the world. On Oct. 24, they visited the Honolulu Museum of Art, to explore the Textiles and Fashion Collection’s tapa holdings.
“We came to Hawai‘i to find out as much much as we can about the ancient connections between Hawai‘i and Tonga, with a particular interest in petroglyphs and pictographs—or rock art—in both island nations,” said Gillies.
During their visit, they viewed 19th- and 20th-century tapa (aka kapa and bark cloth) samples from Hawai‘i and Tonga in the Textile Studio and discussed the differences between the two. Collections Manager Jen Callejo displayed the samples and Curator of Textiles and Fashion Tory Laitila talked about kapa techniques with them.
“It was great to meet these two tapa artists and hear their stories,” says Laitila. “Both of them were impressed by the tapa they saw in Hawai‘i. Tui, the daughter, uses tapa as the canvas for her paintings. Sulieti told me stories of when she was growing up, her chore in the morning before going to school was to prune the trunks of the trees in the orchard, so that the bark used to make tapa wouldn’t have holes. Sulieti even had a ladder to help her. Seeing the quality of tapa here and hearing her mother’s stories, Tui is thinking about growing trees on her property in New Zealand to harvest for tapa.”
While in Hawai‘i, the pair also showed their work in Hilo, visited the collection at Bishop Museum, and gave workshops at the University of Hawai‘i, East-West Center, and Brigham Young University.