Tivaivai is a Cook Islands contemporary art form with substantial foundations, documenting the history of a pacific nation since the time of the first European contact. Originally thought to have been introduced by the wives of Missionaries & Catholic Nuns, the western technique of quilting was readily adopted and ‘converted’ to a uniquely Cook Islands methodology.
‘I grew up with it’ laughs Tungane, in a recent interview. ‘Our mothers did it, it becomes part of you’
Born in 1940 on the southern group Island of Mangaia, Tungane Broadbent is a living embodiment of the art form. Tivaivai are an essential feature in Cook Islands ceremony, prepared for all types of occasion, weddings, funerals, birthdays, investitures, significant meetings and gifting to visiting dignitaries. For her own wedding, Tungane helped produce two large Tivaivai; they served to demonstrate that the bride was a woman of substance and skill, seen by all as a valued member of her community, emblematic of a transition from youth to adulthood.
Prominently displayed at the marriage ceremony, stories were related about the creation of the special Tivaivai, a bonding experience for two merging families. Stunning Hibiscus and Tiare Maori flower patterns featured on the colourful Tivaivai as did the intricate patterns of breadfruit leaves.
‘But that was a long time ago’ the artist smiles.
However, time is indeed relative and it was not until a ‘mind power’ seminar by John Kehoe while living in Auckland in the early eighties that Broadbent decided that ‘Tivaivai’ were indeed her passion and that she would dedicate a lifetime to the extraordinary art practice.
The day after that fateful seminar concluded, Broadbent found herself at ‘Fare Pareu’ in Otahuhu with a large order of material. ‘I didn’t go to school that day’ Tungane declares with a radiant smile. The then primary school teacher decided that at least on that Monday, her re- discovered passion would take priority.
Word quickly spread within the Auckland, Cook Islands community, ‘I would cut, back and tack a lot of Tivaivai for women to sew’ she states. The preparation time for Tivaivai production is a time consuming process and Broadbent’s ‘advance’ work for other Tivaivai sewers became exceptionally popular. In addition Broadbent fully produced Tivaivai in all of its forms, Manu (two tone Tivaivai, usually with patterns of flowers and leaves)), Tataura (embroidery and appliqué) and Taorei (the famous ‘squares’).
Retiring from teaching in Auckland in 2000, Broadbent returned to Rarotonga shortly thereafter but her lifelong passion for Tivaivai continues, highlighted by her selection for APT5. Broadbent is one of few Cook Islands artists* ever to be selected for such an acknowledged international contemporary art exhibition.
However, the art of Tivaivai is no longer common amongst Cook Islands family traditions. A consequence of the demanding modern lifestyle and the changing role of women in the community, the labourious hand sewn Tivaivai of old are fast disappearing along with the knowledge and skills used to create them. In response, Broadbent founded the O’oa Fabric & Fibre Arts group in 2007, where a primary focus is to teach women to sew Tivaivai. Broadbent speaks passionately to this point, ‘It’s important to keep the culture of Tivaivai alive, its part of our identity as Cook Islanders’.
Broadbent is in good company. There is now broad international acknowledgment of textile art as a primary source of Pacific cultural knowledge. In the Cook Islands, Tivaivai deliver essential social narrative and are fundamental to contemporary artistic expression.
- 2020: Tatou 2, The Story of Us, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
- 2019: Kia Maeva Tatou, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
- 2018: MPA#1, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
- 2017: Today, Tomorrow & Yesterday (with Reuben Paterson), Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga
- 2016: Festival of Pacific Art, Guam, Micronesia.
- 2014: Grandmothers Legacy, BCA Gallery, Rarotonga
- 2006/07: Asia Pacific Triennial 5, Queensland Art Gallery/GOMA, Brisbane, Australia.
- Government of the Cook Islands.
- Cook Islands National Museum, Rarotonga.
- Queensland Art Gallery and Museum of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia.