Tabatha Forbes
Ei Katu
Limited Ed. Prints
May 16 – June 24, 2017

Opening Tuesday May 16 @6pm with Cable Bay Vineyard and CITC Liquor.

Teina Etches, Culture
Tabatha Forbes, Exhibiting Artist

How we see place, how it has been marked and represented in a European context (notably contrasting an indigenous perspective), and how those aesthetics flow in and out of our current understanding and experience is at the centre of my practice.
Shifting to the South Pacific has broadened my understanding of what ‘cultural practice’ means, specifically how the divergence of old and new ideas is often conflicted by the shifts and pressures of modern life. For example the introduction of mass-produced materials or the inaccessibility of organic, or more traditional materials. I am interested in the fluidity and complexity of connecting the past with the present.

Earlier projects in Rarotonga included looking at the introduction and collection of plants, animals and artefacts during the 18th century European voyages into the South Pacific. The idea of cultural exchange, especially during those initial meetings essentially changed those places/people/cultures and environments forever.
Within the contemporary context of globalisation I consider the obvious fact that no part of the world is untouched by these influences. Immigration, travel and technology all insist whether we approve or not, that we change. That being said, the importance of past traditions defines not only a nations people but also the place itself.

Taking an ethno-botanical perspective, the project addresses the importance of connecting people and place through the cultural use and value of the plants around them – notably reflected in the islands head ’ei / ’ei katu making. In Rarotonga, one cannot ignore the beauty and importance of the ’ei katu in the day-to-day adornment of women. All around the island different styles of ’ei katu seem to represent not only the availability of fresh flowers and leaves at a particular time of year, but have also adapted to include an innovative use of artificial flowers. Significantly, some women have created their own styles or have their favourite ’ei katu makers. There seem to be ’ei katu for all occasions and the more I look into this practice inevitably, the more diverse it becomes. Every one of these ’ei katu has a story; it’s not a finished or conclusive project.

I began taking photographs and talking to women about their ’ei katu in 2015 and, like my ukulele project (2012) note that the style and methods are a hybrid between traditional methods and modern adaptations. Traditionally made from fresh flowers and leaves some of todays ‘ei katu may include plastic or fabric flowers creating long-life versions that may be used for traveling overseas or can be sold to the tourist market.

While there are many talented ’ei katu makers in Rarotonga, the selection I have painted have come from events and occasions I have encountered; for example one of the most recent paintings was an ’ei katu made by kids for my daughter’s farewell assembly at Apii Te Uki Ou school.

The paintings attempt to document the beauty of the craft but also reference an old practice in a contemporary context. Without the person, the paintings become ethno-botanical artefacts, abstracted by the empty headspace. The final works are significantly tributes to both the makers and the beautiful women in the Cook Islands wearing them. The show is also a tribute to this island – in my mind embodied in nature through the vibrancy of the ’ei katu. Tabatha Forbes.

The exhibition at Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga will consist of a limited edition print run from the series of original paintings. A catalogue will accompany the show including essays by Director of the Cook Islands Library Museum, Jean Mason and free-lance writer Rachael Smith.

Opening night photographs courtesy of Turama Photography.