With Ngatu in the Hawke's Bay Museums Trust Collection
5 August – 5 November 2023
In ‘Amui ‘i Mu'a - Ancient Futures Dagmar Vaikalafi Dyck and Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi explore pathways between the past, present, and future in Tongan arts. This exhibition surveys the individual work of Dyck and Tohi from the 1990s-2020s and sits within an ongoing research project exploring the legacies of late-18th and early-19th Century customary Tongan art practices.
‘Amui ‘i Mu'a has been developed in dialogue with a community of knowledge holders inside and outside the Kingdom of Tonga, who have sought to “reclaim and repatriate … the knowledge systems encoded in woven, layered, wrapped and carved objects.” Beginning in 2017, the artists worked with a group of international colleagues to interact with Tongan artworks held in public and private collections throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, North America, Asia and Oceania. Following on from a previous iteration of this exhibition at the Pah Homestead, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, the ambitions of the project are expanded here through a variety of artistic strategies and the inclusion of three ngatu (Tongan barkcloths) from the Hawke's Bay Museums Trust Collection.
Tohi’s contribution to ‘Amui ‘i Mu'a embodies his life-long examination of the ancient Pan-Pacific technology of lalava, a lashing technique used to bind materials together. The artist engages with lalava as a poetic device for passing life philosophies from one generation to the next. For Tohi, the structure of lalava creates literal and metaphorical ties between people and culture – it aligns with the double helix of DNA, the blueprint for life, as well as the constellations in the night sky that have guided ancestral navigation. His works in this exhibition explore lalava patterns and the finely incised carving of 18th and 19th Century Tongan clubs to uncover what he refers to as a “fibre system” of knowledge.
Koloa, Tongan feminine textile art forms, have grounded the development of Dyck’s multi-media practice. She investigates the objects that Tongan women have created with natural materials over centuries—the intricately coded patterns and construction methods of ngatu, kiekie (waist adornments), fala (mats), kalo (combs) and kato alu and kato mosikaka baskets. Dyck is interested in how meaning is generated through the circumstances in which these objects are created, used or indeed gifted back within their communities. Here, her works considers how koloa are enmeshed throughout different facets of social life – from the everyday domestic setting to ceremonial occasions where these artforms express ways of relating to the environment and to each other.
Encompassing a multitude of artforms, relationships and stories, ‘Amui ‘i Mu'a considers threads of connection that have sustained the Tongan diaspora over centuries, sharing knowledge and experiences to galvanise future generations.
Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi (b. 1959, Ngele’ia, Kingdom of Tonga) initially immigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand in 1978 and currently lives and works between Tonga and Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. The 2010 Art and Asia Pacific Almanac describes him as “Tongan art’s foremost ambassador.”
Dagmar Vaikalafi Dyck (b.1972, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland) is an interdisciplinary artist and educator of Tongan and German descent. In 1994, Dyck completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts and in 1995 she completed a Postgraduate Diploma of Arts – both at Elam School of Fine Arts. She was the first woman of Tongan descent to do so.
 Billie Lythberg, Phyllis Herda and Melenaite Taumoefolau “’Amui ‘i Mu’a: Ancient Futures in Context” in ‘Amui ‘i Mu’a – Ancient Futures (Auckland: RIM Books, 2021), 5.
 Karen Stevenson quoted in “Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi”, Biennale of Sydney website: https://www.biennaleofsydney.art/participants/sopolemalama-filipe-tohi/, accessed 1/6/23.
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