For over 30 years, Joan Gragg has recorded how Cook Islanders live, how they move, congregate, play, sing and celebrate.

Born on Rarotonga, Joan Gragg went to the side school in Avarua and Tereora College. She won a scholarship to New Plymouth Girls High School, then attending Ardmore Teachers College, Auckland. She taught one year in Rarotonga and eight years in Australia. Upon her return to Rarotonga, Joan became interested in painting and designing jewellery with Cook Islands Black Pearls and Mother of Pearl Shell, eventually establishing Beachcomber, a studio / show room that fostered local art and craft and Cook Islands Black Pearl Jewellery. She is self taught in drawing and water colour and studied oil painting at the Atelier, with Snowden Hodges in Hawaii. Joan completed a Masters of Art & Design (First Class Honours) from Auckland University of Technology in 2010.

In earlier works Joan captures iconic island moments, women on motorbikes with their babies tied to them, or people on motorbikes carrying large household items and/or large pieces of garden equipment. In village scenes of an Umukai (traditional feast prepared in an earth oven), there are dogs under the table, there are chickens scratching in the dirt, there is laughter and tables filled with food. Her wedding series showcased the unique circumstances of island nuptials, as the bride and groom are celebrated in a hybrid ceremony of cultural and Christian traditions. Everywhere people congregate, the artist is present. Gragg’s use of colour directly reflects her tropical surround, the composition and structure of the work designed to catapult the viewer directly into the depicted scene. All aspects of everyday life are subjects for Joan, her central message to live the moment was clear then, it is even more pertinent now. The artist writes ‘whatever happens, it’s only for a minute, the scene moves on and changes, so never again will it ever be like you have seen. When I paint, I try to record the significance of the moment, images that people often take for granted and are not conscious of it until they see it portrayed.’

Gragg is also known for her series of ‘Nuku’ paintings, that celebrate the unique point of view of the annual Christian gospel celebrations.The Nuku Pageant is a distinct Cook Islands cultural experience, as traditional Bible stories are adapted and performed live, in true Cook Islands style, with both humour and reverence. Humour and laughter are very close to the surface in the Cook Islands. Joan states, ‘ Humour in the Cook Islands rarely springs from malice or superiority, but tends to be inclusive and equalising. Any subject can be the source, from everyday incidents, to serious subjects such as death, God, the Orometua (local Pastor), good or bad habits.’

In her artwork, Gragg conveys the easy-going manner that defines Cook Islanders. Her works not only give evidence of the philosophy of this Pacific Island community, but also serve to record ways of life that universally evolve, often before we have taken the time to appreciate them.

Joan Gragg
Patia Te Pere – The Big Deal
July 18 – 30, 2011
BCA Gallery, Rarotonga

For 32 years, Cook Islands artist Joan Gragg has painted her take on the unique characteristics of life in the Cook Islands.

In Patia Te PereThe Big Deal, Joan re-presents her narrative within a first edition series of 1000 decks of playing cards, the characters, themes and patterns from the contemporary playing deck proficiently replaced by Cook Islands cultural, environmental and societal icons. Embedded within this story is the artist’s constant theme of humour and the unique social attribute’s on daily display within a contemporary Pacific society.

While it is obvious to reference the popular local card game of Uka, a flamboyant, effusive performance more oft supplemented by raucous laughter, drinks, ei katu and cigarette’s, Gragg’s choice of artistic delivery (the cards) offers a poignant comment on the transposable and economic nature of culture  itself. With Cook Islands Tourism increasingly recognizing the commodity like value of culture within its more recent international marketing efforts, Joan has painted it, sent it to China and turned it into a large scale, affordable tourist souvenir for re-export and constant destination advertising  where ever the cards may travel.

With this type of art creation the artist acknowledges the efforts of large scale art production powerhouses like Jeff Koon’s, Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst and gives the thumbs down to prodigiously out-dated economic theories as they pertain to Small Island States (SIS) and their apparent competitive (dis) advantages within the global trading sphere. A refreshing discourse on the Sino-Pacific relationship and how it can fuel pacific tourism awareness and preserve local identity ensues.  Also bought into question is the debate on culturally specific products, their manufacture, supplication and inherent market perception.

Joan Gragg will present ‘Underneath the Mango Tree’, a solo exhibition, with Bergman Gallery in March, 2021.

Selected Exhibitions:

  • 2021: Underneath The Mango Tree, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
  • 2020: Tatou 2, The Story of Us, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
  • 2011: Patia Te Pere – The Big Deal, BCA Gallery, Rarotonga,
  • 2010: Seeing the Funny Side, Cook Islands National Museum, Rarotonga.
  • 2008: The Nuku, The Art Studio, Rarotonga; Te Akamata’anga, Group Show, The Art Studio, Rarotonga; Vaka Eiva, Group Show, The Art Studio, Rarotonga.
  • 2004: The Art Trail, March – April 2004, Kenwall Gallery, Arasena Gallery, The Art Studio, Rarotonga.
  • 2003: Au Takeake e Iva, Group Show, The Art Studio, Rarotonga.
  • 2002: Aue Te Mataora, Group Show, BCA Gallery, Rarotonga.
  • 1989: In Memory, Paradise Inn, Rarotonga.


  • Bank of the Cook Islands, (BCI), Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
  • The Cook Islands National Museum, Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
  • University of the South Pacific (Cook Islands Campus), Takamoa, Rarotonga.
  • Private Collections – Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia & Europe.