This piece stopped me in my tracks as I entered the Encounter design gallery at the Museum in Auckland.
Entitled “Little Barrier” by Malcolm Harrison , a large figure stands on a canoe in front of a sail. The whole thing stands about 6ft tall in the glass case, which unfortunately caught a little of my flash no matter which way I approached it.
My first thought was ” that looks like a quilt….great” but then it seemed to be a sail and then it had characteristics of a map. On it are appliqued shapes suggesting wind and wave, and schools of fish up to the right of and above the figure’s head. Some of the appliques could read as suggesting fluttering seabirds…..anyway, the sail in muted greys blues and creamy whites on the sandy coloured canvas offset the warmer coastal sandy earthy tones of the figure itself: is it a man? or a woman? It is godlike in pose, anyway.
Found objects include wood, presumably driftwood pieces, stones and some tiny shells formed into hair or is that a diadem? The clothing on the figure is of a natural silk, embroidered in toning and near-toning threads to provide interesting textures and patterns; it is also marked by quilted lines and hand written figures – making no sense but suggesting recorded information of some kind – the passage of time? sailing data? cultural information? or weather records perhaps? … it really doesn’t matter that we don’t know this, it’s powerful anyway. Other techniques around and on the figure include wrapping, applique, fabric manipulation and hand painting. There may be more. The head is a simple stone marked in such a way to suggest an ancient mariner searching the distant horizon ahead. A wonderful tribute to the ancient people who arrived by sea from distant Polynesia, over 1000 years ago.
Oh , and in case you hadn’t picked up on this, I loved this work.