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Wellington Artist Jo Torr at Hirschfeld Gallery

1 September 2005
For immediate release

Wellington Artist Jo Torr To Exhibit At The Michael Hirschfeld Gallery

Jo Torr’s exhibition ‘Tupaia’s Paintbox’ opens on 9 September in the Michael Hirschfeld Gallery at City Gallery Wellington. The exhibition brings together two of Torr’s well-known ‘Transit of Venus’ gowns and a series of new work inspired by a unique gift made for Captain James Cook by his wife Elizabeth at the time of his fateful third voyage.

Jo Torr is fascinated by the history of early encounters between European Polynesian peoples. Her ‘Transit of Venus’ works are beautiful and elaborate gowns that explore the exchanges between European explorers and Polynesian peoples at the time of Cook’s voyages in the South Pacific. The gowns are based on dress styles of the 1770s, when Cook’s voyages took place. One gown is made of red cloth: red is a colour associated with mana in many Polynesian communities, meaning that red cloth was a coveted trade item. The second gown is made of tapa cloth, bringing together a Polynesian tradition and fabric with European costume history, and also referencing ceremonial gifts of Tahitian tapa cloth that Cook received.

Torr’s new two-dimensional works draw inspiration from a waistcoat that Elizabeth Cook began to make for her husband, in preparation for him to wear to court on his return from his third voyage. Cook however was killed on this voyage, and the waistcoat (now held in the Mitchell Library in Sydney) remains unfinished. The original waistcoat is made from Tahitian tapa cloth that Cook brought back from one of his trips: Elizabeth has embroidered decorative patterns upon it.

Torr’s new works are also made from tapa cloth, with hand-stitching marking the outline of a waistcoat panel. They are embroidered with scenes of contact and trade between European sailors and Polynesians – images that Torr has adapted from paintings by Tupaia, a Tahitian high priest who joined Cook’s first voyage and acted as an intermediary with the indigenous communities that they met. Tupaia’s paintings (only recently attributed to him) offer an extraordinary view of these early cross-cultural exchanges from a Polynesian perspective.

Scheduled to coincide with the 2005 Montana World of Wearable Arts Show (23-25, 29-30 September and 1-2 October 2005), this exhibition will be an unmissable part of Wellington’s celebration of art and fashion.

Jo Torr – Tupaia’s Paintbox
Michael Hirschfeld Gallery at City Gallery Wellington
9 September – 9 October 2005
Free entry, open every day 10am to 5pm.


Jo Torr, ‘Transit of Venus I’ 2004. Photographer: Michael Hall. Courtesy of the Mark Hutchins Gallery

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