Handpounded bark and natural pigments
When I first saw tapa from Tonga, I thought it was beautiful in texture, color and form. I loved it even more when I learned that, since it was stripped from the inner bark of mulberry trees and hand pounded by indigenous women, it was alive. Natural pigments could be used to dye and paint it. It was traditionally used in the indigenous communities of Oceania, Asia, and the Americas for clothing and blankets and presented as gifts at weddings, birth and death ceremonies. Women sit together in communal groups on the ground, pounding with mallets on the bark for hours and weeks making rhythmic sounds as they produce “cloth” from nature’s tree fibers. I draw with my Japanese brush and sumi ink directly on it, and this rough material surprisingly holds a fine line.
There is sensuality to the processes experienced by all of us who work with the bark. I work closely over the surface, drawing square inch by square inch, marveling at its changes in fiber density and pattern. I become lost in the meditative process of creating the intricate line work, which mimics the natural patterns of the bark. I like the way the soft bark feels under my hand as I’m working and the way it absorbs pure pigment. I have also worked with bark from Samoa, called siapo, which often has holes in the material. The holes, made years ago by insects or possibly branches that emerged from the tree trunk, are also natural elements in the design of each piece.