Wellington-based artist Kristelle Plimmer is one of three recipients of the Pacific Art Awards 2000. Kristelle is a graduate of the Whitireia Craft, Art and Design programme and also a part- time tutor here. Her winning piece, The Paua of Money, draws on concepts of colonisation, hybridity and transformation.
Intrigued by the concept that choosing to make art can be a part of redefining one's individual cultural identity, led her to choose a floral headdress as a way of replacing the crown with a Pacific counterpart. The headdress is made from old pennies dating back to Queen Victoria, paua shell and scrap copper.
Cultural exchange began the day Cook landed and and continues unabated. The imperialism that drove the colonisation of the Pacific has changed but the economic advancement of imperial powers that lay at the heart of the process has not. This is why I have chosen to use money as a central part of my work. The colonising nations saw their task of bringing 'civilisation to savages' as an act of kindness by a benign ruler, and the usurpation of the governing systems that the people had by the British crown could only be to their lasting benefit. For this reason I have made a floral headdress as a means of replacing the crown with a Pacific counterpart. Cutting out the kings and queens on the pennies and substituting paua for their profiles is a means of reclaiming their power.
Culture today is a hybrid, a mixture of the imposed and the selected, the past and present. How one chooses to live and to work is an act of culture which, although it cannot be separated from the systems of governance that define our lives, can be an act of recognising both the limits of individual choice and the power we have to make choices that are either affirming or negating. However, defining what is affirmative or negative is also a choice, made both by individuals within a culture and imposed by the collective will. To choose to make art is a constant process of redefining one's individual cultural identity, and in this process, to have a transformative effect, no matter how small, on the collective culture.
I have used pennies, from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II, to symbolise the changes form colonies to sovereign nations, from British coins to New Zealand; scrap copper to symbolise the process by which the junk of economic advancement can be reworked into a symbol of the Pacific. The title is a play on words which, if said quickly, sounds somewhat different. Rather than exchanging money for culture, I see this piece as an act of changing money into culture.
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