The judges were impressed at how The Exchange evoked a deep emotional response from the audience, with the artists interpreting contemporary New Zealand in a way that resonates deeply with our cultural sense of identity.
More about the garment and the designers
The Exchange took seven months to make. The sisters crafted thousands of ceramic feathers and coins, a ceramic headpiece and patu – some of which they had to make several times as the ceramics shrunk upon firing. The cloaks, which undo to lie flat as wall hangings, are made of tough car boot lining and fixed with heavy-duty Velcro, which sticks to the hairy fabric like glue.
Two weeks before entry, they decided to pull apart the female cloak and start again. It was painful, but they knew it wasn’t right.
‘It was really funny because we were both having nightmares about the female part, and we were like, “Oh, do we keep it? What do we do?”,’ Natasha recalls. ‘We were shattered – and finally we just looked at each other and were like, “Sorry. I can’t stand it”.’
Off they went at speed. All the tiny feathers were tied on with separate ribbons, which had to be undone.
The Exchange was inspired by many different things, including contrasting concepts of Mother England, the regalia of power, female figureheads, male monarchal figures in Maoridom, living Victorian portraits, and English colonial history mingling with that of ‘the colonies’ in New Zealand. Additionally, they draw on the Treaty of Waitangi settlements, in which the New Zealand government attempted to redress Maori for historic breaches of the treaty – the original cultural exchange of promises and treasures that went awry.
The designers started with some complex patterns to represent the complicated and emotional history, the blending of the culture, but their aim throughout was to break their ideas down into their quintessence. They wanted viewers to be able to recognise what their garment was communicating, but for it to retain an interesting obscurity where each person could apply their own interpretation. Because, as Natasha says, that is ultimately what all good art should be.
When they entered The Exchange into the World of WearableArt Awards Competition, the sisters from Christchurch had absolutely no expectations. ‘When [the Supreme WOW Award] was announced we stood there for a while clapping that person,’ Natasha says, ‘until we realised it was us!’