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Published: 10 September 2021

By Andy Ross

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Discovering Textiles - Jo Torr and Pacific Crossings

As we all work to understand and redress the the past, New Zealand artist Jo Torr brings a unique and perceptive insight through costume. 

Artists have always been inspired by cultures other than their own and this can help to come to terms with problematic histories. In her work, Jo uses fashion nd textiles to comment on the mutual cultural exchange between Polynesia and Europe. In "The Gauguin Gown" a Victorian dress is recreated using lava-lava fabric. Named after the artist who painted young women from his adopted home of Tahiti, showing them as "exotic" and "desirable", this piece addresses the imposition of dress on the local population by missionaries and beautifully mixes Tahitian and European ideas of beauty. 

In another work, "Pacific Crossings", the artist embroidered, on an 18th century recreation of a waistcoat and coat, botanical speciments collected on Captain James Cook's first Pacific voyage in 1769. The embroideries are developed from the original paintings by Sydney Parkinson of the plant specimens acquired on that expedition. In "Nga Kakahu" European blankets meet Maori cloaks, referencing not only the two cultures but also the representation of Maori people in the late 19th Century by Burton Brothers in Dunedin. 

In terms of raising awareness of how different people view others this is powerful work. Long live artistry that is not only beautiful but also thought-provoking .