Making ngatu (painted bark-cloth tapestry) is for Ruha Fifita a form of cultural heritage, passed down from generation to generation, with the techniques for creating and painting ngatu regarded as akin to heirlooms. Fifita explains that, throughout the Pacific, ‘There is not a separate word for art. It is often associated with how we generate knowledge or hold on to knowledge and share it’.
Fifita’s project for Inner Sanctum involved harvesting materials and the creation of a new ngatu, exploring different modalities for developing patterns and processes amongst her immediate family. The kupesi (pattern) used in Ko e Mataliki ‘o e Mo’ui, 2024, draws on the concept of continuous links found in older designs, such as Fata’o Tu’i Tonga, which references the bindings used to support the central beam in a thatched-roof structure. Here, family bonds can be seen in the fibre bindings used to construct a home. Fifita also draws on principles of Welsh pattern-making, including the Carolingian Cross and Triquetra symbols, which combine Christian and pre-Christian concepts of unity and eternity through continuous, overlapping lines. This skeleton design is then expanded through the painting process in various ways, with the kupesi reinterpreted continually across the entire surface of the ngatu.
The title of the work is a Tongan phrase with layered connotations, encapsulating new beginnings, germination or new growth, and is used here to describe a making process, shaped by the exploration of new ideas to advance collective understanding. Fifita was also interested in honouring points of unity found in the various cultural and spiritual aspects of her identity, including the Baháʼí faith and their Welsh ancestry.