The annual Pacific Showcase aims to bring together the best of the Pacific. On Saturday February 16, as well as some of the finest Pacific products, the Showcase featured two of the leading people in Pacific art.
As a Pacific artist of both Tongan and German decent, Dagmar Dyck, is proud of the rich cultural heritage attached to her work.
She’s been a practicing artist for the past 20 years since graduating from ELAM where she was a printmaking major.
Her work has exhibited internationally and throughout New Zealand and currently she is and arts and technology teacher at Sylvia Park School, Mt Wellington, Auckland.
Based in New Zealand, the first generation Kiwi says Aotearoa is the place where her Tongan and German roots converge.
“I spent quite a bit of my life going backwards and forwards to Tonga from New Zealand because we had a family business there and my parents lived there for 20 years. So I get a sense of home from Tonga as well as New Zealand,” she says.
Her colourful and vibrant art work is thematically inspired by Tonga’s material culture and the work often produced by Tongan women through tapa cloth or ngatu design.
As such her work is also a fusion of traditional practice and the European techniques she picked up as a fine arts student.
“I guess the European influence is the style in which I paint, and some of the materials I use,” she reflects. “But the themes are about a celebration of our uniqueness, and elevating tapa, mats, and basket making as an art form.
“They’re not just little arts and crafts, they’re actually fine art,” says Dagmar. “I think my paintings and my prints lend themselves to that notion.”
On February 16, Dagmar was one of the leading Pacific artists chosen to feature at the annual Pacific Showcase at the Cloud on Auckland’s water front. It was an opportunity to exhibit and sell her work to a large audience made up of art enthusiasts, amateur admirers and tourists.
“It was great to be there to show people what we do, especially to an audience made up of Pacific people as well as tourists, who perhaps weren’t so familiar with the kinds of images portrayed in my work.”
Dagmar, who currently heads the Tongan Artist Collective responsible for the Matala festival, is keeping busy with a show in March alongside the well-known, Shane Tuffery, and another in Wellington with Cerrise Palalagi.
Speaking about the artists at this year’s Pacific Showcase, prominent Arts Pasifika Consultant, Marilyn Kohlhase, says Dagmar is among the crème of Pacific artists.
“This is the senior Tongan contemporary artist, so she’s up there, and she’s in many collections internationally,” says Kohlhase.
Another leading Pacific artist at the Showcase, whom Kolhase describes as a “Niue genius”, was Sieke Taihia.
Although he’s always had a creative streak and loved drawing, Seiki hadn’t decided to take his art seriously until five years ago. But the New Zealand-born Niuean has an impressive body of work covetable by most professional artists.
Like Dagmar, Sieke’s work draws on cultural heritage with a focus on themes of migration and legend.
In contrast to the lively colours of Dagmar’s work, Sieke’s art is predominantly black, but the intricacy of his style and technique more than compensates for anything lost by lack of colour.
“My work is very optical but it’s really just a representation of our traditional woven mats,” says Sieke, whose aesthetic drew inspiration from the experience of helping his mum and aunties with their pandanus weaving as a child.
“A lot of my other work is usually based on Niuean history. I do a lot of research and find so many stories people haven’t heard. So I retell those stories through my art for people, especially for the kids,” says the self-taught artist.
One of Sieke’s artworks, which attracted a lot of interest at the Pacific Showcase, told the story of Niue’s first ever assassination in 1953. Seiki used three machete’s or bush knives to represent the three perpetrators of the crime, in which the island’s New Zealand resident police commissioner was killed.
“They got sentenced to hang and that’s why you see the hangman’s noose represented around the machetes,” says Sieke.
The artwork goes on to tell the story of how the three men were given amnesty for their crimes because the community in Niue did not believe in hanging; they were also sent to Samoa and Rarotonga for hanging but the people there did believe in it either. In the end they were shipped to New Zealand to serve out a life sentence.
Sieke believes that it’s immensely important to retell stories like this. He says they’re part of our culture and heritage, and that we need them to move forward into the future.
With Pacific artists like Sieke Taihia and Dagmar Dyck it’s reassuring to know that at least some of those stories will be preserved through art.