Underneath the Mango Tree

Tuesday 23 March 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Art, Features

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Underneath the Mango Tree
One of the paintings to be exhibited tomorrow. BERGMAN GALLERY/21032210

Mango trees, like their famous palm tree counterparts in Pacific folklore, are a quixotic icon of Island fantasy, their imposing physical stature and delicious, fragrant fruit have few equals.

For artist Joan Gragg, they are central to some of her earliest childhood memories, a powerful symbol and connection to her parents, sisters and her upbringing in the village of Tutakimoa on Rarotonga.

Gragg has many stories to tell on the subject of mango trees, and she does, with great affection, remember the many instances her father had, defended his mango tree from daily raids by the village kids. 

“He would pick up all the small stones he could find, to prevent children throwing them at the mangoes hoping to dislodge them, not because he didn’t want them to have the mangoes, but because the stones proved problematic when he eventually came to mow the lawn! Not to be deterred, the village kids were pretty good at getting up at 5am, to beat the chickens (and owners) to any mangoes that had fallen to the ground.”

Gragg will be presenting her new collection of paintings inspired by mango trees at the Bergman Gallery tomorrow. The exhibition will open at 6pm and run until April 18.

Intense colour radiates from her new collection of paintings, vibrant oranges, blues and greens dominate the compositions. The usual icons are present, motorbikes, people and animals, all in a state of perpetual motion. But it is the colour and structure of these works that are most poignant.  This is a lifetime of experience being played out, a symphony of memory, emotion and fulfilment.

It is also a statement of a time past. Today, many of the mango trees have gone. They have been removed for construction or pared back for ease of maintenance, a mere reflection of their former majesty. 

A life experience has vanished, replaced by technology. Today, the next generation of village kids are more comfortable on their iPhones than in the branches of a mango tree. Times change. If you want a big juicy mango, easier to buy it at the supermarket now.

In keeping with her long-acknowledged conceptual premise, the artist captures fleeting everyday moments, moments that are not necessarily momentous, but moments none the less that form part of our everyday existence, that perhaps we should recognise and could appreciate a little bit more.

Every one of Gragg’s paintings sets a scene, and a play unfolds underneath the mango tree. You could be on that motorbike, zooming over to the next village, raking leaves, hanging out the clothes, having a conversation with a group of friends, working out or eating at the village feast. This is Gragg’s story, and it is one told with warmth and passion.

There is a sublime ease within this work, as the various scenes progress, it is almost as if you can hear the laughter of the children in the branches, the sound of the departing motor bike, the chatter of the group, the incessant crow of that noisy rooster. 

It is the artists absolute luxury to narrate this sentiment, and she does just that, with the authority of a lifetime of experience, underneath the mango tree. 

- Ben Bergman