'Like raising something from the dead' - Niuean hiapo artist wins prestigious award thanks to her grandparents

October 22, 2020

Hiapo artist Cora-Allan Wickliffe receiving Creative New Zealand's Pacific Heritage Arts Award 2020. Photo/Babiche Martens.

​By Paige Faigaa - Paige.faigaa@pmn.co.nz

It was after a conversation with her grandparents that Niuean artist Cora-Allan Wickliffe set out on a journey to revive the traditional Niuean cloth hiapo.

Now that journey and her work has been recognised by Creative New Zealand, with Wickliffe receiving the prestigious 2020 Pacific Heritage Arts Award. 

But Wickliffe says she only started making hiapo because she was asked by her grandparents.

"They had been talking about old people being wrapped up in these cloths and buried, and then my grandpa said he wanted one. Me being the grandchild that wants to please them, I thought I can do it."

I didn't realise ... that it would be like raising something from the dead.​

​At the time, Wickliffe says she didn't realise the size of the task ahead.

"I started researching and I didn't realise how hard it would be, and that it would be like raising something from the dead. 

"But I have a really stubborn personality so when I set my mind to something I go for it."

Cora-Allan was inspired by her grandparents to start making Hiapo. Photo: Cora-Allan.co.nz.

​Hiapo is the Niuean form of bark cloth but Wickliffe says the practice has been "sleeping for a little bit".

“It hasn’t been regularly practised, certainly in the 1900s there’s been multiple revival attempts."

Wickliffe believes most of the attempts would've just ended up in gallery spaces, which was something she wanted to change.

By contrast, her revival of the hiapo is anchored in real life, progressing "more into homes, communities and ceremonies".

It's especially important for Wickliffe to get her work "In the homes of our matua for kids to see" as a way for Niuean youth to reconnect with their culture.

"Hiapo is not just a type of Tapa cloth, it’s reconnection for our future generations. So I’m planting it in places where my sons can see it and my sons know it."

For the Niuean artist her inspiration behind the revival of the traditional practice has always been her family.

That even extends to receiving the Creative New Zealand Pacific Heritage Arts Award.

"Being recognised for the award was more about my family.

"​Having a legacy for my whanau is huge and being able to make my parents and grandparents proud makes me feel good just as a daughter.​"

Cora-Allan Wickliffe's Harvest Lalaga 2019 Private collection. Photo/Cora-Allan.co.nz.