Meet the Creator: Tui Emma Gillies and Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows

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Tui Emma Gillies, left, and her mother Sulieti Fiemeâ ???? a Burrows.

Matt Saunders / New Zealand Home and Garden

Tui Emma Gillies, left, and her mother Sulieti Fiemeâ ???? a Burrows.

You could do a double take when you take a closer look at the magnificent ngatu, or tapa, artwork created by Tui Emma Gillies and her mother Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows – their final pieces were made during and after the lockdown. Covid-19 from last year and reflect the uproar of the time: people wear masks, while a trio of paintings, Travelers 1, 2 and 3, shows a vaka sailing in mountainous seas.

“They are representative of all of us who are going through difficult times, heading towards an uncertain but hopefully calmer future,” Tui explains.

'Voyagers 3' by Tui Emma Gillies and her mother Sulieti Fiemeâ ???? a Burrows.

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‘Voyagers 3’ by Tui Emma Gillies and her mother Sulieti Fiemeâ ???? a Burrows.

Sulieti, who moved to New Zealand from Falevai, Tonga, with her late kiwi husband Barry in the 1970s, continued to practice the artistic traditions she had learned from her elders and passed them on to Tui; the duo work feta’aki, or plain tapa fabric, from the bark of the paper mulberry tree, and use umea, or dye, made from red earth; India ink; acrylic paint; and kupesi, or stencils, made from midribs of coconut leaves to create their works, while tapioca is used as a natural glue to assemble the tapa leaves. Tui says they feel culturally and spiritually connected to these mostly traditional materials that honor their ancestors and help keep the art practice alive.

The modern version of this ancient art form also serves a different purpose. “We use our knowledge to highlight contemporary issues that we believe need to be addressed. Discover the work of Tui and Sulieti at the Masterworks Gallery, Auckland, August 28 – September 18 and at tuiemmagillies.com.

Our favorite things

Nuku Island: This private island, a short boat ride from Falevai, Tonga, is where we collect umea (red earth) to dye our paintings;  it still inspires us.

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Nuku Island: This private island, a short boat ride from Falevai, Tonga, is where we collect umea (red earth) to dye our paintings; it still inspires us.

The little chalet on the right is part of the hospital and where we stay when we return to Falevai to work on projects with the community.

Provided

The little chalet on the right is part of the hospital and where we stay when we return to Falevai to work on projects with the community.


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