Wellington artist Jo Torr explores issues surrounding the exchange of cloth in early encounters between European explorers and Polynesian peoples.
Her gowns Transit of Venus I (2004) and Transit of Venus III (2005) are posed as a pair. Designed in the style of the 1770s—the time of Cook’s voyages, they represent an exchange of materials, ideas, and value systems. One is made of red European-style cloth, the other from tapa cloth. In some Polynesian cultures, red is associated with mana and tapu, and anything red is highly coveted.
Todd’s show takes its title from a chapter in Anne Salmond’s celebrated book, The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas (2003). A Tahitian high priest, Tupaia accompanied Cook on the Endeavour, and was a key intermediary between the Europeans and indigenous peoples they encountered. Salmond argues that he made several paintings during Cook’s first voyage, representing scenes of Pacific life from a Polynesian perspective. Torr also embroiders patterns derived from these paintings onto small pieces of tapa.