Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium (2004)


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


Tapa, or barkcloth, is central to the cultural identity, social relations, politics, history, and contemporary religion of people from the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga. Large and ornate textiles made from the beaten inner bark of the paper mulberry tree are designed and made only by women. During 2003–04, the Center for Art and Public Life at the California College of the Arts completed a collaborative project entitled Pieces of Cloth, Pieces of Culture: Tongan Tapa Cloth. Under the direction of Ping-Ann Addo, The Center’s 2003–04 Scholar-in-Residence, Tongan women tapa-cloth artists from Oakland produced a full-sized (15 ft. x 15 ft.) tapa cloth and held educational programs, mounted an exhibition, and made a video documentary about Tongan tapa cloth and Tongan culture in the Bay Area. With support from the Department of Anthropology at the California Academy, the cloth was exhibited in 2004 at the Gallery, State Building on Clay Street, Oakland, and at one TSA venue for the 2004 Biennial Symposium.

This presentation was collaborative: Dr. Addo presented images, words, and recorded work songs highlighting the production of the tapa-cloth, while the lead Tongan woman artist, Mrs. Siu Tuita, reflected upon and answered audience questions about what it has meant to them to produce the first full-sized, allnatural Tongan tapa in the mainland United States. We also discussed the merits, and challenges, of striving to enhance a new sense of community solidarity with collaborative projects of this nature.