"The opportunity that Ora has offered me is so exciting! Giarna Tekanawa, a kiwi who has lived in New York for about 20 years, has been running this space as a Pop-Up Gallery for New Zealand artists, as a chance for us to get a foot in the door of the New York art scene. "
- Sonia Richter 2017
With a world obsessed by American politics, I felt compelled to create a topical, yet considered, artwork that would be an anchor piece for my upcoming exhibition in New York.
I have a strong philosophy within my art practice (and my general being) to look on the positive things in life. After lots of brainstorming I decided I wanted to honour Michelle Obama: for the phenomenal woman that she is; her grace, her wisdom, her openness and approachability. Also I admire how Obama would use fashion to create a statement, in particular how she chose to wear clothing made by immigrant American designers in her final weeks as First Lady.
I printed out dozens of images of her. I looked at the stories of the designers, how the dress would work as a sculpture; I looked for something that is iconic ‘Michelle Obama’ (eg. that one shoulder look), at the occasions the dress was worn. In the end I chose two dresses: the delicious cream one by Naeem Kahn worn for the Nordic State dinner in 2016 and the black Michael Kors dress worn to the Presidential Medal of Freedom Dinner at the White House in 2012.
When I work on a tribute painting I fill my studio with as many influences of that person as I can. So I have been listening to Michelle Obama’s speeches on Youtube. Her final speech as First Lady resonated with me completely and the artwork started growing and developing more in my mind.
I decided this work needed to go beyond the power of fashion to make a statement, to grow to include many of the things Michelle Obama spoke about in that speech: the inclusion of all cultures, religions and backgrounds, and the importance of education.
While waiting for paint to dry between layers I started to research symbols of cultures, countries, religions and belief systems of the world. I put a call out on my Facebook page for friends to find something to represent their culture and beliefs and donate it to me or tell me so I could find it myself.
The artwork is grounded on a foundation of books to represent education, with national flowers from many nations winding their way up the lower part of the dress.
Entwined amongst the flowers are symbols and charms representative of the cultures, religions and belief systems of the world: the Star of David from Judaism, the Crescent Moon of Islam; Christianity and Hindu; of peace, love and hope; the sunflower for women’s rights, the protea for Africa, and many more.
I look forward to unveiling the finished artwork on the 3rd of May 2017 in New York.