Te Rongo Kirkwood’s glass cloaks combine elements from Western and Maori art traditions, creating new ways to express meaning. The physical structure of each cloak is a concrete metaphor for its narratives; were any one of the individual elements removed, the exquisite balance of the work would disappear. In its entirety each cloak transcends the sum of its parts and Kirkwood links this to her personal reflections upon genealogical lineage and personal histories, both of which are likewise much more than a collection of individuals.
As Kirkwood mentions in her own description of the works below, Turua Po (Rewarewa) is based on that of the kahu, or harrier hawk. The bird’s head and wingspan made from buttery rewarewa wood provides a place of stillness from which the rest of the work flows with a tangible energy. Its strong horizontal proportions balanced by the long brush of tail and plaited wingspurs. The beaked profile is an elegant foil for the rough textures of the harakeke bindings and weaving, this contrast simultaneously expresses the effortless glide and swift rush of wind of a bird in flight. These dual sensations are bound together in each individual glass element as well: the still, smooth surface and regular shape of each kiln-formed element reveals a glittering, etched iridescence. Light is woven into the cloak with each of these forms and is as much part of its fabric as the dark red binding and flax fibre. Turua Po (Rewarewa) speaks in an intimate whisper which is felt through the fingertips and glimpsed by the eyes; the scent of the oiled wood and dried harakeke is tasted at the back of the throat, and with the knowledge that the work may be worn, the sound of tinkling glass and rustle of flax can almost be heard.
The artist speaks in her own words about her works below, explaining their initial conception and the personal significance they have for her:
Nga Tuaitara o Taikehu (series of black cloaks that were exhibited at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery)
Te Rongo Kirkwood draws upon the history and forms of traditional Maori cloaks to connect people with stories of the landscape, and their relationship with the elements. In this body of work, Kirkwood explores the traditional warrior’s cloak form – the kahu toi. The protective garments have been reconceived as a sculpted art object, where glass, harakeke (flax) and light combine to collapse layers of time and space. Specifically, these cloaks reference access to layers or rows of lineage and the entwined ancestral interconnectedness of strings of memories and consciousness passed down through bloodlines or DNA.
Within this dialogue Kirkwood also references the three generations alive today within her whakapapa: the artist’s parents generation, the artist’s generation and the artist’s son and his generation. Each piece represents an honouring of the memories of all those that have gone before in which the sum of their union or expression of love in turn resulted in the spark of life all the way down to those living today. An idea the artist examines, questioning whether humans are in fact the ultimate personification or expression of love itself.
Turua Po (series of cloaks on native timber)
Kirkwood has a love of birds, particularly birds of prey, and the powerful sense of vision and freedom they evoke.
Building on earlier work around the traditional cloak form, Kirkwood explores further the hawk, or kahu, form and is especially interested in the traditional view of the birds as a medium connecting the Ira Atua with the Ira Tangata (the spiritual world with the tangible world). Drawing upon the idea of the bird as a go-between and referencing the feather cloaks that were often used to cover the body of the deceased, Turua Po explore ideas of life and death, transformation, and untrammelled freedom of vision.