Honour underwhelms artist

Thursday January 03, 2019 Written by Published in Local

“I think there was a letter or something that came last week but I don't even know. Maybe that is what you're talking about?”


That was the response of 74-year-old Tukua Turia after being congratulated by Radio NZ Pacific for making the New Year Honours List.

The Cook Islands heritage artist, who has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, admitted she had no idea what the list was when contacted for an interview.

While she was aware she had won some award, she says her family had helped her organise her correspondence and she did not understand the significance of the New Year Honours list.

She is an expert in the Cook Island traditional quilt-making art Tivaivai, and is being honoured for her services to Cook Islands art and culture.

“Holy gosh man!” She said, giggling while listening to the notes about her work being read to her over the phone.

The notes explained Ms Turia's recognition as a 'Ta'unga Tivaivai', an expert in the art of tivaivai.

Several of her pieces have been collected by New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, and she has also provided art works for ANZAC ceremonies.

Turia is routinely commissioned by the Cook Islands Consulate to create gifts for dignitaries and some of her works have been gifted to New Zealand government officials.

And on top of the many community workshops she has run, this year she led the “Kuki Airani Creative Mamas”, a group of Cook Islands women based in Mangere, who collaborated with fashion designer Karen Walker.

The mamas all worked on a dress, combining Cook Islands tivaivai and modern fashion, which was displayed at the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange exhibition at Buckingham Palace as well as public exhibitions in London.

But Turia said she had forgotten much of the work she had done.

“Oh the Anzac ones!” She recalled laughing, “I just forgot about that.

“You know, I like giving but I would never expect something back like this. There are a lot of things I did that I never remember. But I never expected things like this to happen," she added referring to the New Year Honours List.

“This thing - what is this? Was it an award? Or... But anyway, you know, I don't understand what it is.”

After having the significance of the list explained to her, she responded with amusement.

“Oh, is it the QSM? Oh! Because I heard people say QSM so I thought ‘Oh, what's that for?’ You know, some people are showing off with all these things.

“Nah, to me it's nothing! You know, it’s things that you do to help your people, to help whoever is needed.”

While the Cook Islands grandmother appreciated the recognition, she said she was focused on doing the work she loved which kept her busy.

Sitting at her sewing machine, making cushion covers for an upcoming wedding, Turia admitted she was surprised at the interest in her work.

“Yes, I am amazed that people are interested and supportive of the work that I do. Really - the councils and the managers and all the people were so helpful.

“They give me the resources for the mamas - like the materials, the cotton, scissors, machine, irons, steamer - all the things that I need to teach, the council has supplied them.”

And behind it all was the desire to pass down her skills to the next generation, Turia said.

“That's what I'm trying to do now - to teach those who wanted to learn and especially our young generation. So we can pass on the knowledge of our culture.

“They can carry on when we are gone; they are the new ones who can teach the young ones coming up. I just teach and never say no to anyone.

“That's my aim, that's the main purpose. But not to get a thing like this - what you're talking about. But anyway, that's nice.”

            - Indira Stewart/Radio NZ

Leave a comment