Waikato-based visual artist Margaret Aull (Te Rarawa, Tūwharetoa, Fiji) presented her Master of Fine Arts graduating work at Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design in central Auckland this week. I wrote a short comment for her exhibition catalogue…
Margaret Aull’s work over the past two years has traced the formation of a pan-cultural understanding of the notion of tapu, drawing from both Fijian and Māori frameworks. From the pictorial to the physical, her paintings have become sculpturally realised in installations that need to be physically negotiated. Throughout this process, the notion of tapu has been researched, discussed and experienced; the idea of sacredness considered in relation to objects and history, gender and power, time and space.
The interface of non-Fijian and non-Māori critical audiences has influenced and evolved her visual vocabulary; her work carries the sense of a deeply significant personal enquiry that is both protected and powerful. There are things that cannot be deconstructed for the purpose of intercultural understanding; there are senses of balance and belonging which cannot be translated into English. It is because of this cultural interface that I see Aull’s installation works as constructed environments for audiences to experience the role of observer.
Engaging with her work is to enact the manner in which protocol and presence is adjusted naturally to accommodate for unseen forces of socio-cultural mores. Such forces are embedded in epistemologies and ontologies, in land, sea and soil, in hearts, minds and memories.
Using imagery of her own body, Margaret confronts audiences with a further dimension of two-way self-reflection. Larger than life, her detached skin, eyes and teeth are loaded in political and emotional codes of race and beauty, sexuality and power.
At the culmination of her postgraduate enquiry, this work maps Aull’s personal and intercultural journey of understanding the notion of sacredness, of safety and of self.