• Widows' mourning garments, vest and cap decorated with Job's Tears, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea
  • Chantal Fraser, The Strongest Lines Cross Over, work in progress, 2013

Chantal Fraser & UQ Anthropology Museum

In this feature, a selection of guest contributors respond to an image or material artefact (typically a garment or accessory), that represents Queensland fashion. Each item is specifically chosen by The Fashion Archives in collaboration with collections and with a particular contemporary practitioner in mind. As a result, each Remember of Revive is a bespoke response and can take many formats and styles.

Contemporary artist, Chantal Fraser, works with costume to explore her Samoan heritage. She has done a great deal of research into traditional dress practices of the Pacific, which she playfully engages with in her work. Because of these interests, we connected Chantal with the extensive and impressive collection of ethnographic material culture (non-Western art and artefacts) held at the Anthropology Museum at the University of Queensland—the biggest university collection of this kind in Australia. There Chantal found striking collections of bodywear and textiles from Papua New Guinea which share some fascinating parallels with the Samoan dress customs she is so well-acquainted with.

The Strongest Lines Cross Over

I was fortunate to view a selection of mourning attire significant to the Oro province of Papua New Guinea at the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum. The vest, veil, and caps were made entirely form Job’s Tears and natural string. The objects were consistent in their aesthetic and density. Visually they reflected a humility and patience that one would not necessarily align with the mourning process. In addition, they reflected a methodical construction process that once again, one would not normally associate with mourning.

Upon reflection on these objects, I began to think of how we mourn (or don’t mourn), what we would miss about loved ones and the ritual of publicly acknowledging our losses.

I have always been drawn to my Mother’s hands. Physically, I think they are the one body part of ours that is almost identical and therefore I watch them age. When she has ever needed to dance a Samoan siva, the grace that is required in her hand movement has always been akin to that of a taupou—enviable and perfectly synced. However, what I love the most is that they reflect a lifetime of manual work, capability and solution. If there is one thing that I could look at forever for an immediate reminder of her, it would be my own hands.

Through this research process I documented the vein lines in my mother’s left hand (we both have very prominent veins in our arms and hands). The method visually mapped where each vein went and how this differed to mine. The process meant the ‘footprint’ of her veins were burnt into my memory and I found myself re-creating their lines easily without reminder. If I now ever want to remember line-for-line what they look like, I can.

The work in progress, The Strongest Lines Cross Over, allows for the dramatic wearing of memory. The research process took many forms. One execution of this was to construct a veil-like adornment informed by the mapped vein lines. The concept being that the object self secludes but also publicly acknowledges an emotion through sight.

An additional path of enquiry was through performance where I as the artist, allow the vein lines to sit atop the face—almost like a second skin. At different points in the process, the inhaling of this plastic film meant the lines formed directly around the contours of the face. The breathing created a heat and cloudiness that was one-sided and suffocating, yet I was still breathing-in even though it was not possible. I found this process to be similar to what we physically try and hold onto when we experience loss—the physical struggle of ‘holding on’.

Original work and written response by Chantal Fraser, 2013.
Widows' mourning vest decorated with Job's Tears, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea
Widows' mourning vest decorated with Job's Tears, Oro Province, Papua New GuineaPhotograph by Carl Warner. Reproduced with the permission of The University of Queensland Anthropology Museum
The garments are intricately beaded using hand-made twine and Job's Tears
The garments are intricately beaded using hand-made twine and Job's TearsPhotograph by Carl Warner. Reproduced with the permission of The University of Queensland Anthropology Museum
Chantal worked from the veil decorated with Job's Tears that is part of the widows' mourning attire
Chantal worked from the veil decorated with Job's Tears that is part of the widows' mourning attireReproduced with the permission of The University of Queensland Anthropology Museum
Chantal stitches into her mother's hand
Chantal stitches into her mother's handChantal Fraser
Mapping vein lines, 2013
Mapping vein lines, 2013Chantal Fraser
Chantal performs wearing her veil of veins for 'The Strongest Lines Cross Over', work in progress, 2013
Chantal performs wearing her veil of veins for 'The Strongest Lines Cross Over', work in progress, 2013Chantal Fraser
Sketch for a veil, 2013
Sketch for a veil, 2013Chantal Fraser

Published in , on November 19, 2013.