Tapa – stunning artworks in Paperskin exhibition

This Saturday 19 June Te Papa opens it’s new tapa exhibition – Paperskin: the art of tapa.

Preparing to install some of the masks from Papua New Guinea.

Preparing to install some of the masks from Papua New Guinea. Copyright Te Papa 2010

You’ll be able to see a stunning range of more than 40 tapa artworks from throughout the Pacific. Huge awe inspiring masks from Papua New Guinea,  Hawaiian tapa more than two hundred years old, and an incredible 22 metre long  Tongan tapa which hasn’t been on display before. The show was developed with the Queensland Art Gallery and Queensland Museum and includes tapa from their collections. 

Installing a mandas mask from Papua New Guinea, which is nearly 4 metres high.

Installing a mandas mask from Papua New Guinea, which is nearly 4 metres high. Copyright Te Papa 2010

The one thing that all the works have in common is that they are made of tapa, or barkcloth. The plants used to make the tapa include paper mulberry, and banyan tree roots. The tapa is decorated in different ways in different islands in the Pacific, and the patterns and motifs used vary.

Installing large pieces of tapa is quite a challenge – the tapa, or barkcloth, is fragile and needs to be handled carefully.

A large Cook Island tapa is carefully moved into position, ready to be hung.

A large Cook Island tapa is carefully moved into position, ready to be hung. Copyright Te Papa 2010

The 5 metre long tapa from Mangaia, in the Cook Islands is hung on the wall.

The 5 metre long tapa from Mangaia, in the Cook Islands is hung on the wall. Copyright Te Papa 2010

More about the anga (tapa) from Mangaia, Cook Islands.

The tapa works in this exhibition look particularly good because of they way they have been displayed – the tapa cloth seems to float off the walls. The secret to this is the use of some small but extremely strong magnets which help hold the cloth in place.

Conservator Rangi Te Kanawa shows one of the magnets used to hold the tapa in place.

Conservator Rangi Te Kanawa shows one of the magnets used to hold the tapa in place. Copyright Te Papa 2010.

The magnets are so powerful that they are almost impossible to pull apart with your bare hands. If you put one magnet on either side of your finger, they stay there!

Demonstrating the power of the magnets.

Demonstrating the power of the magnets. Copyright Te Papa 2010.

When you come and see an exhibition you might think “What’s all the fuss about? that looks simple to put together”. But appearances can be deceptive and the reality is a bit different. For it all to go smoothly requires careful planning and preparation and great teamwork on the day.

To find out more about Paperskin check the exhibition website.

Explore all the tapa artworks on display in the online catalogue.

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