ASCC artist at Tahiti siapo conference
American Samoa Community College (ASCC) Art facilitator Regina Meredith recently returned from the conference Tapa Festival Lien culturel d'Oceanie held in Papeete, Tahiti from November 10 – 23.
In addition to interacting with other siapo (tapa) practitioners from Wallis and Futuna, Rapa Nui, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Hawai'i, Marquesas, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia to share methods of bark cloth making, dye making and motif application, Meredith and accompanying tattoo master and siapo maker Su’a Tupuola Uilisone Fitiao gave a power point presentation at the gathering based on their collaborative paper titled "Saili'iliga ma suesuega e faatatau Mamanu Siapo: Initiating a dialogue about Samoan Siapo and Motifs.”
For Meredith, a chance to network with fellow siapo artists from the region always provides an opportunity to enhance her own knowledge and skills. “Meeting our Pacific island family who still make siapo is always the main highlight,” she said. “Once we get together, we could make siapo every day all day long. There is exchange in process, and language, and
curiosities revealed regarding the different dyes and colors used, what the motifs mean. Just the overall spiritual gathering of the tapa minds is a great feeling.” Meredith also expressed gratitude for the expertise Su’a brought to the gathering. “His contribution to the siapo art form is extremely important because of his experience and his mastery of tatau. Our delving into "parallels in motifs" between siapo and tatau could not have happened without his input to the research we did together at the Smithsonian.”
In their conference presentation Meredith and Su’a shared the research they did at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC this past summer. During four weeks at the Smithsonian, they worked alongside conservators on 21 siapo collected between 1890 and 1953, focusing on three basic areas: historical and background information; siapo construction and design elements; and the perpetuation of siapo. In the resulting paper, Meredith and Su’a identify themselves as “artists from the oral tradition” seeking to bridge the academic and cultural approaches to the indigenous art form. “Considering the two schools of thought -- that of the scholar and that of oral tradition-- are significant and run parallel,” Meredith and Su’a write, “intersecting often and continuing along a common path, it is our hope that this paper inspires a new approach to seeing the art form, and initiates a dialogue about siapo that permeates Samoan culture and ancestral vitality.”
As a distinguished artist in the community as well as through her work at ASCC, Meredith has longstanding experience with the intersection between the academic study of art and its actual practice. “Attending an event like this always brings me more knowledge to pass on to our students in the classroom,” she reflected. “In this case, the benefits are twofold. First there’s the sharing and listening to other tapa practitioners who engage in teaching their art form to others, thereby learning what’s new and what we as educators can do better. You also gain firsthand knowledge about our Pacific similarities and differences in this art form.” She and Su’a illustrated their collaborative paper with photographs of ASCC students creating their own original siapo pieces. “Students expressing themselves through siapo represents an engagement with their ancestral history,” she explained. “This is where the intangible qualities of cultural values meet the tangible practice of re-creation, which in turn is how cultures remain living and vital.”
As part of their commitment to perpetuating the art form of siapo, Meredith and Su’a will present a lecture for both students and the community in the spring 2015 semester based on their presentation in Tahiti.