Interview - Maryann Talia Pau

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
12th of August 2011
Various amazing woven pieces by Melbourne artist / designer / maker Maryann Talia Pau. Top piece - Mo Lo’u Tama, a woven pendant incorporating pandanus, shells, black and coloured satin ribbon, coloured feathers.  Acquired by National Gallery of Victoria,  August 2010.  Photograph - Steven Rhall.  Bottom piece - Fa’amolemole pe mafai ona tatou lalaga faatasi? Breastplate incorporating dried pandanus, shells,  satin ribbon and organza ribbon.  Acquired by National Gallery of Victoria, 2010.  Photograph - Steven Rhall.
One of Maryann's beautiful hand woven accessories - Rebirth, created from Raffia, shell, crystals, ribbon.  Photograph - Lisa Hilli.

Jenny B and I had the great pleasure of meeting the INCREDIBLE and slightly 'Melbourne-famous' Maryann Talia Pau recently, at a wonderful weaving workshop she hosted at Harvest Workroom in Brunswick last month.  (one sneaky pic from the workshop below, and more here!).  Maryann is one of those incredible creatives with more than just a formidable talent - she also has an uncanny gift for enthusing others and encouraging public interest and participation in her much-loved craft.  There is something so infectious and engaging when Maryann talks about her passion for weaving... you can't help but be swept up in her enthusiasm for this age-old 'Pasifika' tradition.

Born in Samoa, Maryann she grew up in Auckland, New Zealand before moving to Melbourne with her parents when she was just 10 years old.  Despite these childhood upheavals, Maryann has strong ties to her Samoan heritage - a vibrant culture which she connects with daily via her creative work.  These days Maryann is based in a studio Brunswick. Here she creates her Mana Couture handwoven accessories range, and dreams up all manner of other creative and social engagement projects such as the Pacific Womens' Weaving Circle and her recently launched collaboration, Haus of Savvy Savage - a dynamic enterprise that showcases Pacific and global Indigenous art and design, nurtured and curated by the Haus Chiefs, Maryann Talia Pau and Lia Pa’apa’a!

As I mentioned briefly in my Design:Made:Trade coverage, I am seriously convinced that Maryann is one designer to watch - I've no doubt she is destined for very big things!  Three of Maryann's breastplates have been acquired by the NGV (ah, amazing!) and are currently showing as part of the Art of the Pacific Gallery exhibition in Melbourne until December 2012.  This week Maryann has also been getting her weave on in the Social Studio's Magical Tent at Federation Square, and she has a highly anticipated exhibition coming up entitled 'Regal Savage', a collaboration with local shoemaker Emma Greenwood, and part of Craft Victoria's annual Craft Cubed event.  It runs 22nd August - 3rd September 2011. Talk about multi-tasking.

Maryann is also hosting another Weaving workshop at Harvest Textiles on October 15th and 16th - do book in early to avoid disappointment - her last workshop sold out in days!

Huge thanks to Maryann for this insightful and entertaining interview!  If you love Maryann's work please do bookmark her website for all upcoming MTP news and happenings!  Epic.

Maryann Talia Pau at her Brunswick studio.  Photo by Lara Davies of Harvest Workroom.

Tell us a little about your background - what path led you weaving originally, and to working on the variety of projects you’re involved in now?

I was born in Samoa and though I didn’t grow up there, I developed a strong sense of what it meant to be Pacific Islander during my childhood in Auckland. I was 10 when we left, but the memories of song, dance, performance and making are still deeply rooted. It was this age that I learnt my first weave and I wouldn’t practice weaving for another 20 years. I’ve always made things, usually jewellery or would customise my clothing so that I had some Pasifika style happening. I then realised that I was really good at making beautiful jewellery, and that my desire to use materials from home (loved pulling apart my mama’s old shell necklaces) and incorporate weaving into bigger breastplates, would be the beginning of something exciting for me here in Australia.

My craft and work has certainly led me to exhibit in some significant galleries like the NGV and to collaborate with fashion houses like The Social Studio and Alphaville. It’s exciting and really overwhelming sometimes, but I just keep on doing what I do naturally, and that is design and weave and make jewellery.

I love what I do and I am passionate about continuing this age old craft. It’s exciting pushing the boundaries and seeing how I can apply this craft to create new work and in new spaces.

You’re one busy lady – can you give us a brief overview of the projects and exhibitions you’re working on at the moment?

As I write this, I’m counting down the hours to our debut installation for Haus of Savvy Savage at Federation Square!! Exciting, and such a great opportunity for us (You may have seen us in MX recently styling up for the Haus) It’s a banquet inspired theme that uses the ceremony of food and feasting to celebrate our diverse Pacific and Indigenous ancestry. Our installation is part of The Social Studio’s Magical Tent where Super Makers get to show their work and run workshops. The Chiefs of Haus of Savvy Savage (myself and Lia Pa’apa’a) are part of the Super Makers and we have invited some Super Weavers from the Pacific Womens' Weaving Circle to do a weaving demonstration.

Once this is done, it’s straight onto preparations for Regal Savage, a collaboration with the outrageously talented and witty Emma Greenwood at Craft Victoria at the end of this month 22 August – 4 September. I’m really looking forward to this. Between us, we have 5 children, so we really do enjoy our time together and there is always a positive flow of ideas and connections.

Soon after, the Pacific Women’s Weaving Circle will be installing for our project at Alphaville as part of Mis-Design, which is curated by Dr Grace McQuilton, founder of The Social Studio. The concept is Pacific trading and making woven objects, like baskets and jewellery to trade. There is also the sense of reciprocity and gift giving that we want to highlight. We are super excited this, and we’ve been given creative freedom to explore the idea of design and consumer behaviour that draws on our own knowledge of relationships, exchange and consumption of resources.

It is a very busy time for me indeed!!

Have you noticed an increase in support and interest in pacific island weaving and traditional crafts in general in the last few years? If so, why do you think this is? How important is it for you as an artist to reach this more mainstream audience with your work?

I think Melbourne has a strong craft and making community, so the idea of weaving is easily embraced and understood. What is special about weaving though, is that it is also a beautiful metaphor for community building and increasing awareness of other cultures and those around us.. eg weaving stories. For many Pacific Island cultures, weaving is not a craft that is meant to be learnt from a book or even done in isolation. Weaving is a communal activity that is meant to be done in the company of others, where you can share, learn, have a good feed, debrief and recalibrate.

I think my ability and confidence to find new applications and engage a variety of audiences is key to being accessible and relevant. I love that I don’t really have to talk too much about it. When people see what I’m doing or what the PWWC is doing, it makes total sense. People want to look closer, they want to touch it, they want to find where the beginning and end is. Weaving incorporates so many elements: problem solving, design, fashion, couture, architecture, resourcefullness etc

Maryann assists our very own Jenny Butler with her woven basket at Harvest Workroom!

Tell us a little about the Pacific Womens' Weaving Circle you have started with Lisa Hilli - how did this idea come about and what are your goals with this project?

The Pacific Womens' Weaving Circle was established last July. I met with Lisa one day and said, “Hey, I’ve always wanted to be part of a Pacific Women’s Weaving Circle, do you want to start one?” And off we went. The response was HUGE!!! We were asked to be on Radio Australia before we even had our first weave jam, then we were on Art Nation being interviewed by the phenomenal Namila Benson and it just kept going. Our vision for the circle has always been to grow it and support women to create their own social enterprises based on crafts they love and that have meaning for them. Thanks to Facebook and word of mouth, we now have what I call the PWWC Dream Team (management) made up of Lisa Hilli, Lia Pa’apa’a, Grace Vanilau and myself. Our synergies are amazing. We are a positive and affirming group of Islander women who have diverse skills and a passion for weaving. I’ve always said that weaving is healing and calming for me, and it is the same for those that come to the circle.

Various hand woven pieces by Maryann Talia Pau for her Mana Couture range.

In addition to creating and selling your jewellery and accessories, exhibiting your work, running workshops, and being involved in various groups such as the Pacific Womens' Weavers Circle, you’re also a busy Mum!  Do you have any pearls of wisdom re: juggling the work / life balance, and are your kids enthusiastic about weaving too!?

I’m learning to be present. Because my days are full of making, admin, meetings and then home life, it all blurs into one a lot of the time, especially on days when I have to work from home. I’m learning that when I’m with my husband and children, I need to BE with them, just as I would be at work or in my studio. It’s hard to practice but when I get it right, it really helps me to separate the 2 in my mind. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but when it does, I can come back to work and work more effectively and decisively.

Our children are really happy to see us doing work that we love. There’s been a lot of changes in our family life this year and it’s going to get more hectic. My husband also leads a very busy and engaging work life aswell, it’s why we chose to be self employed!  We just need to keep some things as normal as possible and not beat ourselves up when things are chaotic. Kids are smart and they will tell you when they need you to do better. When I did my fashion show collaboration with The Social Studio eaRlier this year, I was making on our dining table at the time and I was freaking out at the mess and not having a table to eat on. Our oldest son said to me, “Mum, I love seeing your mess because it shows me that you’re happy!!” I powered on and finshed a beautiful collection that I was very proud of!!

Maryann Talia Pau at her Brunswick studio.  Photo by Lara Davies of Harvest Workroom.

Which other designers, artists or creative people do you admire?

So many!!! I admire Romance was Born, I think Alexander McQueen is brilliant and I love Rosanna Raymond’s work. The Pacific Sisters Collective in Aotearoa NZ is inspiring too!!!

Batman Who? - breastplate incorporating pandanus, shells, metallic ribbon, tifa and pua seeds, sterling silver By Maryann Talia Pau, acquired by National Gallery of Victoria, August 2010.  Photograph - Kate Golding.

What does a typical day involve for you?

A sleep in as long as I can, a quick breakfast, school runs and then time in my studio or back home to do computer stuff. I spend some of my day dreaming about my nice big light filled studio as part of our converted warehouse which some lovely person will gift us one day!!!

What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?

In fashion, I'd love to collaborate with Vera Wang and if he were still here, Alexander McQueen. In design (industrial) Patricia Urquiola, in architecture, Zaha Hadid and Glenn Murcutt and just because, Porsche.

What are you looking forward to ?

Lauching our first Haus Party for Haus of Savvy Savage and being a great Chief for the business!! And doing my Kultour project next year. YAY!!!!

Left - Untitled breastplate incorporating pandanus, shells, satin ribbon.  Exhibited at NGV International.  Photograph - Kate Golding. Right - ABC TV personality Namila Benson models Maryann's Milimili choker. Photograph - Nik Harrison.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

I love Brunswick because that’s where my studio is and it’s where my family first moved to when we left Aotearoa NZ. But I also love Collingwood and Fitzroy, Collingwood more I think. Some of my favourite shops and cafes are there.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade?

My hands are my tools and ain’t nobody selling them!!! I do like to check out second hand stores though for shell necklaces and material with Pacific island patterns.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

At Aunty Sana’s house with a few sistas: coconut cream fish, cassava, taro, greens….mm mmmm. Great company too, made it a memorable evening.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

At a weaving circle or slowly waking up to the sound of our kids watching Sponge Bob.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

MunsterHaus in North Fitzroy, their crumble is amazing!!!! And Bundoora Kebabs, best in Melbourne!!! (Didn’t mean for that to be purely about food, yep, I love to eat!!!!)

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