Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows
Tongan (Falevai, Vava’u)
Postcards Unlocked #22
It is rooted in the skills my mother taught me when I was growing up in our village of Falevai, in Vava’u, Tonga. She taught me the crafts of weaving, tapa making and painting and kupesi etching, the making of kahoa heilala floral necklaces and sewing.
My mother was a stickler for quality work. She said when you do something or you make something, you always do it the best you can. I have followed her motto over the years and it has helped lift my work from the marketplaces of Tonga and Auckland to being exhibited in the modern galleries and purchased by museums in New Zealand and around the world.
I do workshops in schools and in galleries to pass on what I have learned to the community and was awarded the Creative New Zealand Heritage Art Award, along with my daughter, Tui Emma Gillies, in 2018. As well as doing our own individual work, Tui and I often collaborate on projects. One of those was ‘Falevai Flava’. We travelled to my home island, where the practice of tapa art had stopped, and brought it back to life by working on two large ngatu with the women in the village. A documentary was made to complement the exhibition, ‘Falevai Flava’ at Mangere Arts Centre. Pauline Adalid made another short documentary about Tui and I, ‘Back In The Water House’, and it played during an exhibition of our tapa art and weaving at Corbans Estate Art Centre in West Auckland.
Our next project is called ‘The Cave of Stars’. We have already spent two weeks in Hawaii making contacts, hosting workshops and researching the pictographs or rock art there and how they compare to ancient designs in Tonga. This exhibition was due to open in Hawaii in October this year. But those plans – like everything else at the moment – may have to change due to the coronavirus.