Create NSW caught up with the 2023 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging) recipient, Morgan Hogg to talk about the evolution of her work, and the way heritage and cultural practice can be honoured and reimagined through artistic practice for future generations.
Morgan Hogg and Mataakama Hogg. Image: Isabelle Virrey.
Congratulations on receiving the 2023 Fellowship and being part of the NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging) exhibition. What did this achievement mean for you?
Receiving the Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging) and being part of the exhibition has been incredible. All the artists are so amazing, and have been so supportive and welcoming. The support from Artspace curatorial team was incredible.
I feel very fortunate to have received this Fellowship at this point in my practice, which will mean I can travel and work with mentors and cultural knowledge holders, allowing me to share this knowledge through my practice.
Exploring and reframing your Cook Islands Kūki Airani culture is central to your work. Tell us about your practice, how it developed and your overall vision?
The work I presented in the Fellowship exhibition represents the collection I gathered over several years through listening and learning from knowledge holders in my family and community. Reframing traditional objects, fabrics and artforms, like embroidery, sarongs and dance, reflects my experience of cultural displacement, as part of the Cook Islander diaspora living in Western Sydney.
Growing up I didn’t really have a strong connection to my Kūki Airani (Cook Islands) heritage. Yet COVID changed that. I was living, studying and working at home, so around family all the time.
During this time, my mother (pictured with the artist) shared some of our family’s ancestral heritage and culture, and as I listened to my mother’s personal stories I discovered the incredible significance, meaning and beauty of many traditional objects that were around me at home.
As a first-generation Cook Islander-Australian woman without first-hand experience of language, customs, and traditional way of life, I felt an urgency to know and share my cultural heritage through my art practice. As traditional knowledge holders grow old, centuries of traditional art-making practice are at risk of being lost forever.
I learned about the cultural displacement and loss experienced by the Kūki Airani people since British colonisation in the early 1800s. The foreign beliefs and western values brought by Christian and later Mormon missionaries made a deep impact on spiritual life, which influenced the way culture was expressed through story-telling, sculpture, woven fabrics and traditional arts. The tall, elaborate wood carvings that were created to honour and represent the Gods of Polynesian mythology were all burned and destroyed by missionaries.
“I wanted to honour and reflect the experience of different generations, re-creating a sense of ceremony and connection. So much of my work involves talking to people, hearing all their stories, and then embedding their stories so they can see themselves in the work.”Morgan Hogg
Collaborating with family members and other Pacific Islander knowledge holders, I began to connect and recontextualise cultural items in my art practice. My work entitled ‘Aere Mai, Oki Mai... Hold me again once more under te Marama’ is a reflective shrine-like space, drawing together traditional dance, clothing, and textiles. These artforms are made predominantly by women and often given as wedding gifts.
I wanted to honour and reflect the experience of different generations, re-creating a sense of ceremony and connection. I took sarongs, called pāreu and worn by women, and created 5-metre long hangings. Throughout the space I incorporated Tivaevae, which is the traditional embroidery artform from the Cook Islands, along with several handmade and woven pieces.
It was important to reflect my experience as well as the stories and memories of others. So much of my work involves talking to people, hearing all their stories, and then embedding their stories so they can see themselves in the work.
What is the most exciting thing about being an emerging artist right now?
Being an emerging artist allows me the freedom to experiment with different forms and materials. I don’t feel pressure to fix my focus to one medium, so I have space to explore different art practices, learn new techniques, blend them and continuously evolve.
The early focus of my artmaking was in screen and filmmaking, but COVID meant working from home, so I explored other visual artforms. My art practice has evolved, and I have experimented with many different materials, techniques and media.
The work I presented for the exhibition became part of my practice during my studies and Sydney College of the Arts, where I’ve completed my Honours in 2022.
How will the fellowship support your practice - what’s next for you?
The Fellowship will take me to the Cook Island to work with one of the last remaining knowledge-holders of traditional word carving and tattooing. I will spend time in community, working and learning from him. As an arts student, there was no guidance in cultural art practice, so travelling is really the only way to receive this rare and valuable teachings from the elders of the community.
He is so generous with his time and knowledge. He has a mission to share ancient practice with young artists like me and even those with no Cook Islander heritage.
I feel this is an opportunity for me to carry on his mission and teach people about the culture, especially my Pacifica community here in Sydney, and help them discover and connect with their culture.