UNVEILED Exhibition (2011-2012)
Unveiled Exhibition: 200 Years of Wedding Fashion.
Claire Regnault / Senior Curator.
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand.
Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK.
In 2011, I was asked and commissioned by Te Papa Museum to design and produce the only ‘Pacific’ inspired wedding dress to be included in this historical group exhibition, displayed alongside some of the worlds most influential designers - and inspired my own fashion design career - coming from the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum, UK.
My creative process starts with an idea, oral tradition, folklore, ancestor, mythology, or historical event linked to my own ‘gafa’ (family lineage), either through my ‘Pacific’ (Samoan) mother or ‘palagi’ (English/Scottish) father. If there is something solid, I use it as an ‘anchor’ to create a stable foundation for the rest of my creative practice to build on.
My inspiration behind this garment begins with my personal connection to the first documentary ever made, by the late palagi American director, ‘Robert Flaherty’ called, ‘MOANA of the South Seas’ for Paramount Pictures in 1926.
In this film, there is a young fourteen-year-old girl named, ‘Fa’agase’ (Pronounced: Fah-ah-ngah-seh), who is also being filmed in her actual village, Safune, Savai’i, Samoa. But ironically though, she is suspiciously ‘portrayed’ in the film by Robert Flaherty as living in a traditional ‘Samoan way-of-life’ wearing a traditional tapa cloth wrap-skirt, and ‘topless’, despite the fact that during that same time period, the ‘traditional Samoa’, was already being heavily influenced by ‘Palagi’ (caucasian) culture with their religious ideas of dress, ‘to cover everything up’, and fast becoming a ‘western Samoa’.
Fa’agase is seen to be in an ancient Fa’a-Samoan cultural and traditional ‘context’ performing a number of traditional Samoan rituals and ceremony. She helps with the making of traditional ‘Siapo’ (Tapa/bark cloth), made from the inner part of mulberry tree bark, that is stripped away and splashed with water as it is continuously folded and beaten with a wooden mallet to soften, and widened into a ‘natural textile’ ready to transform into a traditional costume.
Her ‘character’ also plays ‘the traditional family’, ‘Taupou’ (family maiden) who performs the traditional beverage mixing ritual, called, ‘The Ava Ceremony’, before she performs the traditional ‘Siva’ Samoa (dance).
Fa’agase is a ‘symbol’, that reminds us of our ancient traditional fa’asamoa (Samoan way), with noble qualities and attributes like ‘Fa’aaloalo’ (mutual respect), ‘Tautua’ (service), and ‘Alofa’ (love) that make us rich in character and stronger as a unique Pacific identity.
As my late great-grandmother, Fa’agases eldest daughter - my grandmother - is named, ‘Siapo’ (Tapa cloth) (short for our ancient ancestral name, ‘Siaposu’isu’i’). This garment is also worn by Fa’agases great-granddaughter, ‘Brooke’.
I celebrate Fa’agase as an artist, as a Samoan woman and a powerful force that not only lives on in this film, now in the digital space, she continues to live on through this garment preserved in Te Papa for future generations to come.