In her retirement, the possibility of taking her visual arts experience, knowledge and skills to students in Cook Islands began to take roots.
In 1999, Barbara visited Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu for the first time; 10 years later, she returned, and fell in love with the culture and people of the Cook Islands. In July 2012 she visited for the third time, and with the visual arts project in mind, she spoke to Ian George, the Visual Arts advisor at the Ministry of Education. The project came into existence and began in earnest in September 2013; it will wrap up in May 2014.
Schools in Rarotonga and some of the Pa Enua were the recipients of the expertise, experience, knowledge and skills of Barbara. Barbara worked with students, aged five to 18, at Rutaki School, Tereora College, Papaaroa School and the Pa Enua schools of Aitutaki, Mangaia, Manihiki and Rakahanga. She is currently working with inmates at the Rarotonga prison. The work of the students centred on themes relating to their past, present and future. Their stories are told in their art work; about 450 school students participated in the project.
A unique piece of work produced by the students and their teacher Moe Tangatakino in Mangaia School was a piece of tapa with patterns of the Cook Islands inscribed on the cloth. Other pieces of artefacts consisted of tivaivai techniques and dancing costume techniques.
In Rakahanga, Barbara connected closely with the daily lives and culture of the students through conversations about their art work. The Visual Arts project was also an opportunity for Barbara to share her German heritage and culture. The students learnt German words and phrases and German songs. In return, Barbara learnt about dancing, the way of life and culture of the students; their dreams and wishes, their fears, their future plans and goals.
The work done by Barbara is connected to the Ministry’s Education Master Plan, particularly, the reciprocal connection of children and the community to enable them to express their identity, dreams and aspirations as people of the Cook Islands. Visual arts provided that avenue.
The pinnacle of the project is the opportunity for a selection of students’ works to be exhibited in Germany and New Zealand. The first exhibition will feature in the Museum of Ethnology in Hamburg, May 2015; other exhibitions will follow in Munich, Cologne and a town in the eastern part of Germany. The final exhibition will be in New Zealand.
To add value to the exhibition, Rod Dixon, of the University of the South Pacific, Cook Islands Centre, will facilitate the release of collections of Cook Islands artefacts and objects from various Ethnology museums in Germany. The collection of works by the students will be presented with a portrait photo of the each student artist, an explanatory text in both English and German, and short film spots of the different islands. The works will be returned to the students at the conclusion of the exhibition. This is a promise that Barbara is committed to keeping.
The exhibitions will require financial support and sponsorships. Barbara will be sourcing financial support, both, locally and internationally; let’s get behind Barbara in the promotion of Cook Islands children, their way of life and culture.
The Ministry acknowledges the German Government for its major financial contribution to the project; the support of MoE-NZAID is also acknowledged. Ian George, the Visual Art Advisor at the Ministry, has been instrumental in coordinating the project. Finally, the Ministry extends to Barbara its sincere appreciation for adding another window of opportunity for learning for our children.
A key message of the project is, to quote Barbara, ‘Understanding and accepting each other, although living in different cultures, is the first step to peace’. Barbara extends a big meitaki maata to all the students and teachers who were on this journey of peace. The Ministry of Education, again, commends Ms. Barbara Bull for bringing the German Connection to the children of the Cook Islands. --Release