Museum People 3 – Helen Kedgley and Jo Torr

 By Adrienne Rewi

Helen Kedgley, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at Pataka in Porirua (right) and Jo Torr, Loans Manager at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (left) have spent many months working together this year – on “Nga Kakahu,” a stunning exhibition showing at Pataka until February 13, 2011.

The exhibition celebrates the art of Maori weaving from both Maori and Pakeha perspectives and features the innovative korowai (cloaks) of Roka Ngarimu-Cameron and stunning Maori-inspired costumes created by Jo Torr.

“We’ve held a major show of cloaks at Pataka previously and this show continues in the same spirit,” says Helen.

“Yet this collection of work is unique because it celebrates a true bicultural crossover. Jo’s exquisite use of Maori design elements is fresh and inspired, and Roka’s combination of European loom techniques and traditional Maori technique is innovative and unique.  No one has celebrated the cloak in this way before.”

 Roka and Jo had never met prior to this exhibition. They became aware of each other’s work via this blog – Introducing Maori Lifestyles – last year, when I featured their work simultaneously in relation to two entirely separate exhibitions. You can read much more about Roka and Jo’s individual approaches to their art there.

For Helen, who returned to New Zealand in 1990 after 20 years abroad (most recently working at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe), Nga Kakahu is a perfect fit for Pataka. She’s been curating exhibitions at the gallery since its inception and has always had a personal interest in cloaks.

“My great-great-grandfather was fluent in te Reo Maori. He worked with Waikato iwi and he was given a magnificent kiwi feather cloak, which was passed down through our family until it became part of the Te Papa collection.”

“Pataka also curated Eternal Threads about five years ago, which went on to tour – that’s when I first encountered Jo’s work. That show had a tremendous impact on contemporary cloak-making and it showed there were a number of people doing some very exciting experimental work. This show is a follow-on from that; it’s a celebration of biculturalism in the traditional arts,” she says.

Jo works fulltime at Te Papa. She’s been there since 1993 after a stint as Registrar at Manawatu Art Gallery in Palmerston North. That’s the culmination of a fascinating career path that has taken her from ATI graphics graduate to Feltex carpet designer, Elam arts student and librarian before she entered the museum world. She decided early on that she didn’t want to earn a living through her creative pursuits but she is passionate about the pieces she creates and the enormous amount of research that goes into ‘every thread.’

Image credits:

1.  Jo & Helen by Adrienne Rewi

2.  Ngore, Courtesy Jo Torr

3. Cloak exhibition shots by Roka Ngarimu-Cameron – from her exhibition last year – “Maumahara/Remember” – Photos by Adrienne Rewi

4. Cloak exhibition shots by Roka Ngarimu-Cameron – from her exhibition last year – “Maumahara/Remember” – Photos by Adrienne Rewi

5. Kaitaka, Courtesy Jo Torr