Book review Tivaevae: Portraits of Cook Island Quilting By Lynnsay Rongokea Photographs John Daley Published Daphne Brussell Assocs Press Wellington New Zealand
'Tivaevae' is a welcome addition to any collector's shelf of books on Pacific art. Until recently, books on the arts of Oceania rarely referred to the creative achievements of women and did not include artforms which incorporated Western materials.
Tivaevae (appliqued and embroidered quilts) are a speciality of Cook Islands women and have become part of the fabric of Cook Islands lifestyle over the past 100 plus years. In the mid to late decades of the 19th century missionary wives introduced needlework skills to the women of the islands. Communal sewing gives women the opportunity to share skills and experiences and to encourage each other towards the achievement of excellence. The social, cultural and aesthetic values of tivaevae are appreciated throughout Polynesia. The quilts are given as personal gifts and presented on ceremonial occasions.
The book, 'Tivaevae: Portraits of Cook Islands Quilting' speaks through images as much as through words. The author, Cook Islander Lynnsay Rongokea, and photographer John Daley, have a deep empathy with their subject. This emerges in the portrayal of each of the eighteen women who are featured as ta'unga (experts) of their art. The women speak for themselves and their art for itself.
The photographs are not simply portraits, but insights into the character of the women, their environment, and what is most precious to them.
The book is also intended to support further developments in Cook Islands art. One third of the profits from the publications enterprise Te Pua Inano, which includes small publications and cards for the tourist market, goes into a trust fund. This fund will help finance printmaking workshops on the outer islands and exhibition development. Like other Pacific microstates, there is little allocation in the national budget of the Cook Islands to support artistic development. Rongokea hopes to use the book 'Tivaevae' to generate interest in a travelling exhibition to tour Australia and New Zealand. In this way the older art form, tivaevae, will nourish the new, printmaking.