“These faces are my memories”

What began as a Tuesday night respite from daily life has become an exhibition on display at Tiapapata Art Centre, something Cass Hart and her mentor are immensely proud of.

Ms. Hart is a teacher during the day, but once a week she makes the windy journey up to Tiapapata with a friend, and they relax into the world of art in Wendy Percival’s multipurpose studio.

After months of exploring, she began to play with clay, which was the first step towards her collection on display today, reflecting on her years as a young missionary from New Zealand.

Ms. Hart travelled a lot and lived with several tribes in Africa before returning home, and eventually arriving in Samoa. 

“I have that inner calling, you could say, that’s what draws me to other countries,” Ms. Hart said.

“I moved to Africa when I was 22, I started in Tanzania, then came back to New Zealand, but I used to go to Africa and take groups over to do missionary work. I have a real love for people and that’s taken me all over the world.”

Those experiences are on a wall at Tiapapata Art Centre now, in the faces of people’s she has lived with. Using the clay, and under Ms. Percival’s tutelage, she created abstractions of people from her memories.

The idea was not to be realistic, Ms. Hart said, but to highlight the enriching cultures she’s experienced.

“I have really brought in the culture and put it all one face, letting memories come back as I made it,” she said. “I think when you are living in the Pacific, or you have lived overseas and you have experiences that are so rich and so raw… I wanted to make something that had my experience behind it. 

“That’s got a lot more flavour and a lot more passion. People from indigenous cultures are very dear to me.”

To carefully honour each culture, she either created faces true to the tribe she was recreating, or consulted with members to get their representations right, such as with the kaumatua from Aotearoa New Zealand (not pictured), or the woman from Samoa (bottom right).

“With the Samoan girl, I approached friends who have position and authority in the community, and talked to them about it,” Ms. Hart said. “I could tell they thought, thanks for doing that Cass, not just going ahead and doing whatever you want.”

Getting permission to take creative liberties with the facial tattoos was important, she said.

“You need to fully respect it coming in, you can’t think you know what’s best, you have to come under authority and that’s how I felt.”

For the faces from African tribes, Ms Hart made no creative changes to the traditional facial tattoos, but rather recreated them as accurately as she could from text and memories.

The unique black colouring of the masks was a mistake that both Ms Hart and Ms Percival found delightful.

“They were supposed to be beautiful and smokey, with some natural colour behind them from the clay. But I stuffed that up,” Ms Hart said, laughing.

“I had no idea that this could be possible. I don’t know anything about clay, let’s tell the truth here!”

In a detailed process, the masks were fired in a raku kiln and buried in sawdust to be smoked, producing the black look.

“The idea was the smokey look would make them look more indigenous, and intriguing. 

“When they came out, they were less smokey than we had expected, they were more solid black. But she made that work by adding the gold,” Wendy Percival explained.

Seeing her hobby up on the gallery wall is a blessing, Ms Hart says. The pieces weren’t designed for show or profit in mind, and she’s proud of her work.

“Wendy takes a commission, and I’m not keeping any of the money,” Ms Hart said, opting instead use the funds for social work.

“It was really just playing around, having a bit of fun really. I came up here on a Tuesday night for a breather, and then the pieces turned out cool enough to be put in the gallery. It’s been a blessing.”

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