Karl Marx only had very little to say on the subject of domestic labour – he assumed it would evaporate when housewives and the bourgeoisie did – and he had even less to say about the experience and resistance of indigenous peoples.
Wellington-based Turumeke Harrington (Ngāi Tahu), on the other hand, has quite a lot to say about this and other matters. Her installation, naughtily named Gently Ribbed (for her pleasure?), in collaboration with Tini Whetū Project Space, facilitated along Kaupapa Māori principles by Tini Whetū’s Piupiu Maya Turei (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitāne), is a playful reflection on domestic labour, Māori cosmology, and the voyage of life from birth to death.
Longer than I can remember, the main component of Gently Ribbed,hangs like the drying sheets of Nappy Valley, a meandering semi-maze of bright patchwork in the luridly fluorescent pink, yellow and orange of highlighter pens. It leads you in to follow it around in a meditative experience like following a pilgrim labyrinth, spinning Buddhist prayer wheels or following the Stations of the Cross.
It consists of 900 squares of nylon fabric sewn together over 10 months.
A lot of Harrington’s large sculptural installations sits in the expanded field in the space between, art, industrial design, craft, space, furniture, installation and rararanga. The abstract and the conceptual explore the relationships between whakapapa and whanau, and colour and material.
Following these textile screens around CoCA’s reduced gallery space, it fits snugly, but makes you think it about it as both an aesthetic object/experience and as a product of someone’s labour in multiple senses of the word. It is not a coincidence that quilters call sewing sides up and turning a quilt right-side out “birthing”.
Before Harrington came to art (BFA, Canterbury University School of Fine Arts with First Class Honours 2018 and MFA with First Class Honours, Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University 2021) her background was in commercial and industrial design, which carries through into her art.
Textile, particularly sewn textile, inevitably conjures up thoughts of the often-unacknowledged labour traditionally associated with women in both Māori and Pākehā realms – though with sacral associations and mana wāhine in Māoritanga.
There is a nod to long traditions of the coded ways women communicated status and lineage through the materials they quilted together in patchwork. It’s too loud to simply be pretty, in fact there’s a feeling of sacred space to it for all its playfulness.
We can make the connection to the way whakapapa and tāhuhukorero (history) can be encoded into tukutuku panels. There is also a digital quality to it, each patch being like a digital pixel or the base pairs in a strand of DNA. Like life, it isn’t a perfect pattern – the plaid design has deliberately gone wrong. Harrington specifically likens walking the length of Māui’s attempt to climb back through the birth canal of Hine-nui-te-pō, goddess of death, reversing nature in his pursuit of immortality.
Turumeke Harrington(with Tini Whetū and collaborators), Gently Ribbed
CoCA Toi Moroki, 66 Gloucester Street
3 September – 15 October 2022.
- Turumeke Harrington and Tina Whetū, Gently Ribbed, installation photograph, courtesy of coca Toi Moroki