The magnificent exhibition Te Aho Tapu Hou: The Sacred Thread – Jeanine Clarkin at Waikato Museum has been extended until 9 January 2022.
Jeanine Clarkin admits she was ecstatic to hear the news. It was sad to think that such a significant exhibition featuring work spanning more than 20 years would be left mostly unseen due to the recent Covid 19 lockdowns in Auckland and Waikato. The large-scale exhibition opened on 7 August and lockdown occurred just 10 days later!
The exhibition explores the story of contemporary Māori fashion through the life of Clarkin, who through her quiet determination and integrity has made her mark at home and on the global stage.
From dressing Keisha Castle-Hughes and Cliff Curtis after Whale Rider hit the screens to taking her work to Paris and showing on the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week, Clarkin has always dreamed big.
Born in Taupo, her childhood dream was to become a fashion designer. She was encouraged by her whanau and influential women Tuaiwa Eva Rickard and Katarina Mataira.
She was one of the first designers to infuse streetwear with Māori tukutuku patterns and describes herself as a creator of specialised garments that celebrate Māori identity and culture.
The Waiheke-based designer also considers herself a fashion activist who has also worked to find her “international” tribe with indigenous fashion abroad.
The exhibition seeks to provide robust conversations and to demonstrate to the next generation the importance of identity, cultural confidence and security of style.
“How cultural identity affects the way we present ourselves to the world,” says Clarkin. “How the clothes we wear impact on our environment. And how we dressed in the recent past as opposed to how we dress now and, in the future, with an awareness of empowering aspirations.”
At New Zealand Fashion Week 2019 she presented an entire collection crafted from 100 per cent pure wool vintage blankets draped and cut to create bespoke soft tailored garments that were also gentle on people and papatuanuku (Earth)
“My interest in sustainability stemmed from the relationship between the woollen blanket, as a symbol of colonisation and currency. Introduced in the broadest sense it’s a symbol that shows Māori have had the capacity to endure and maintain a process of Kaitiakitanga (environmental guardianship) over time,” says Clarkin. “Research, development and exploration is required to ensure we are using the best possible practices.”
The exhibition includes 35 Jeanine Clarkin garments as well as some guest garments from international designers Clarkin has associated with including Marine Arnoul from France and Angela De Montigny First Nations from Canada as well as Pacific Sisters on loan from Te Papa and personal collection items made available from people with whom Clarkin has collaborated with in the past.
When Waikato Museum curator Maree Mills first approached Clarkin, Clarkin initially used the exchange to try and honour the influence that activist Tuaiwa Eva Rickard had on her, rather than showcase her own work.
“It made me interested to know more about Jeanine’s own journey and when she generously shared it with me, I was captivated,” Mills says. “I thought, it’s time for you to shine. Here’s an artist who is selfless, her ego is not up, front and centre… Her life is so inspiring and her work is inspiring.”