Tall Tahitians - Tu

Christine Hellyar, Artist

This is one of the installations in our collection. It was made in Whanganui Region, New Zealand in 2005.
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About the Work
"The Pacific has stereotypically been associated with hula dancing dusky maidens. Hellyar references this in the Tall Tahitians a suite of adapted white Victorian style dresses. Found in an Auckland antique shop these are similar to the garments that Cook brought with him to give to the Polynesians, these were unsuitable for the big boned Tahitians, Hellyar has extended these and given them a sense of swaying hula hips by incorporating bamboo hoops at the base of each garment. The names on each dress are those of Tahitian chiefs that Cook met, some of whom were taken back to Britain as curios, most notably Mai, or Omai. The extended arms are folded across each other so as to resemble Bishops stoles. By embroidering the names of men on ‘female’ garments Hellyar questions gender roles. The Painters Nets – whilst painting in the Pacific the artists had to paint under nets as bugs would eat the paint as it was applied to the canvas" Greg Donson, exhibition notes for "Cooks Garden" exhibition 2005.

Christine Hellyar, 3 June 2012 – "Tall Tahitians came from my reading lots of different journals from Capt Cook's voyages. Tahitians men and women were taller and more athletic than Cook's men, and the dresses they were given as trade items would have been too small; they were also given lengths of cloth so I like to think that there additions were made. Also a larger amount of cloth gave status to the wearer the additions would increase their social standing. I tried to use cloth that would have been attractive to Tahitians.The embroidery relates to names tattooed on people's arms...a dubious practice? Embroidery itself in European eyes increased status, of course.Cane was found in the Western Pacific so I used cane in the bottoms of the dresses to make them swing more and also look more like flowers."
This record has related works.
H2865 x W810 x D750
linen with embroidery and cane support
White linen gown with a collar and tucked embroidered design, the garment is elongated to nearly 3 metres tall. It hangs on the wall using a wire hanger. The skirt is made from cream printed fabric and the hem has a cane hoop inserted that makes it hang away from the wall. The sleeves are elongated with inserted rectangular strips of linen resembling bishops stoles, the ends of the stoles have the name of the Tahitian chief Tu embroidered in dark thread.
Credit Line
Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Gift of the artist, 2012
Collection Type
Permanent collection
Acquisition Date
Mar 2012



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