I was shown a drawer of ancient wooden Samoan hair combs one day in 1998 while visiting Christchurch. They have been an influence since then and are reflected in lasercut works, from my own combs that are part of the Siamani Samoa series, to less traditional works in both wood and perspex for the Matariki and Oma Rapeti series.

Flox and Michel Tuffery Colab Matariki Exhibition at The Dowse 2016

Sculptural Combs

In 1998, I undertook a residency in Christchurch sponsored by the city’s Arts Centre Trust. During what became a study tour, my interest in Samoan hair combs was sparked during a meeting with Roger Fyfe, the Curator of Ethnology at Canterbury Museum. Thanks to his understanding of my explorations of similar collections at the Museum of New Zealand | Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, Fyfe anticipated my interest in particular artefacts held by the museum.

At a definitive point during our meeting, Fyfe showed me a drawer full of ancient selu pau (thin, wooden Samoan hair combs). Upon seeing them, I was reminded of the delicate wooden fretwork adorning the façades of many of the older, German-built buildings in Apia, the capital of Samoa.

As a result, I investigated the shapes of the combs — trying to determine how they related to the fretwork so eloquently expressed in Samoan architecture from German colonial times. Adding to this significant find were some photos I discovered from the time of German rule — between 1900 and 1914 — of Samoan girls with ornate combs in their hair, similar to the combs I’d viewed with Fyfe.

While living in Samoa soon after, I spent many hours visiting old churches and examining their architecture. As well as their intricate external fretwork, I was fascinated by the churches’ stained-glass windows — whose patterns I later integrated into printmaking designs.

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