Rosanna Raymond, prominent artist of Samoan decent, explains here an ‘activation’ of the Poutokomanawa figure, recently de-installed from the Body Adorned exhibition at the Horniman.
Pou - post Toko - to support, prop up Manawa - the heart of a person
I first met the Poutokomanawa at a meeting with George Nuku and the Wellcome Trust. We had been brought in as cultural advisors for their exhibition on Skin, and he had been in the Wellcome Collection but now resided at the UCL Anthropology teaching collections.
He was to be displayed for his fine Tā Moko (tattoo). They had planned to exhibit him lying down, this we explained was highly inappropriate, akin to having him laying in state; he was used to standing, an ancestral figure, once supporting the central post for the Whare Tipuna (Ancestral house). Māori meeting houses are the embodiment of the ancestor, they are spaces for tribal gatherings, important meetings, funerals, celebrations, the poutokomanawa bears the weight for the tāhuhu (backbone). He is the heart, as each physical component of the house relates to a part of the human body.
Having worked with taonga (cultural treasures) for many years in museums, I was still stunned by this striking figure. He also brought out feelings I thought I had grappled with by working with museums, but he brought them all to the surface again. Therewas a real sense of violence and loss with him, you could see the saw marks, he seemed so isolated, naked, all we knew is who had bought him and where he resided now.
He would have once stood, the centre of his universe, fully adorned, most likely feathers and human hair in a top knot, which had been lopped off, along with his penis, maybe a piupiu (a type of kilt) or a korowai cloak to keep him warm, showing his status, and when I saw he had holes in ears I knew would have had something dangling from them. This is the moment I knew I wanted to help readdress him, re adorn him, show him someone cared, not so much an intervention but an acti.VA.tion…creating a space where we could came together activating the Va.
Va: Samoan term for space. It adheres time to space, this space not a linear space, or indeed an empty one, the Va is activated by people, binding people and things together
For me the real ‘art’ of my work is in the activation of the Va relationship with me and the collections, reinvigorating and revibing the taonga or measina through my body, they can live through me, the past and present sharing the same time and space, allowing the works to go, or be ingested outside the confines of the museum space or enclosure.
We've also shared the poem Rosanna wrote for the ceremony, A Poutokomanawa Bypass, on the blog.