A pinch of traditional pizzazz for WOW

Fibre artist Shona Tauwhiao adds the WOW factor to the traditional Maori techniques. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

Shona knew as soon as she finished her offering for the World of Wearable Art extravaganza that she had nailed it, that she had captured that special WOW factor.

“I thought, yes, I’ve got it,” says Maori fibre artist, or weaver, Shona Tauwhiao. “And I did a little dance around it.”

The form of her creation was perfect. The silhouette reflected exactly the image in her head. “And to have that image woven together in flax in front of me like that was pretty cool and very moving,” she says.

No, we can’t see her creation yet. It doesn’t work like that. It’s in Wellington and under wraps until WOW, that festival of fanciful fashion, weirdness and wonderfulness, starts its 18-day season later this month.

“But I can tell you it’s called ‘Whero is Red’, from the colours song we learned at Te Kohanga Reo. It’s inspired by Hine Te-Iwaia, the spiritual guardian of weaving.” 

She was a warrior as well, says Shona. “She didn’t suffer people, didn’t take anything from anybody. Most of my pieces are based on warriors.”

The work-of-art, the garment, the exhibit, is made completely of flax. Add spiky accoutrements “like mini piupiu pieces” –  the familiar skirt of flax strands that sway to and fro when the wearer moves. “And I have used a flax flower for the headpiece and the shoes are woven as well.”

Flax is Shona’s medium. She started with kete and art pieces while studying at Auckland’s Unitec in the 1990s. She started making wearable pieces by accident. “I love fashion, love design and wondered what would happen if I drew those together along with my culture,” she says.

And while most WOW creations are startlingly futuristic, Shona Tauwhiao calls on traditional techniques that are hundreds of years old. ”I have just given those techniques a modern feel.” Her creations start right from scratch. “The picking, the prepping, the dyeing, I do everything.”

While her ‘piece de resistance’ is safely in a substantial box under the guard of WOW wardrobe police in Wellington, Shona Tauwhiao does have a little number that she can share with us – it’s a flavor of things and a taste of her work.

There’s the Roman-esque or Mohawk headdress, the striking black woven tunic and a ball-gown style piupiu made from flax leaves that naturally curl into tubes as they dry.

Add the percussion sound effects and the swaying sensation as the wearer moves and you get the full dramatic impact. It was enough to slow traffic to a crawl in Miro Street at the Mount when The Weekend Sun was doing the photo shoot.

WOW is not new territory for Shona – she’s had creations accepted before and one was purchased for the WOW Museum in Nelson.

“It’s always great to be accepted because WOW is such a huge production,” says Shona. “There’s designers from all over the world, they put in an awful lot of work and spend a lot of time making and creating. So if you aren’t accepted, it can be upsetting.”

Soon Shona and her girls, Mia, 20, and Sevare,13, are setting out on a road trip. They’ll be following that big box, Shona’s WOW entry, all the way to Wellington.

“The girls had to find the big box and help me package it so nothing broke. And I wouldn’t have finished it in time without their support.” So Shona’s WOW piece is pretty much a family effort.

When it’s show time later this month, when Shona’s creation is revealed to the world, the family, the girls, will be in seats designated for the designers at the “bewitching and beguiling” World of Wearable Arts.