Pieces of Cloth, Pieces of Culture

Ping-Ann Addo, Visiting Scholar (2004–5)

Pieces of Cloth, Pieces of Culture was a yearlong exploration of Tongan art and culture led by visiting scholar Ping-Ann Addo.

Central to the project was the creation of an original handmade tapa for the first time in the continental United States.

The project and yearlong residency involved public lectures, academic courses, demonstrations, a video documentary, an exhibition, and a catalog publication.

Both the catalog and DVD are available to order.

Tapa Cloth

In Tonga, tapa-making is a group activity that is exclusive to women. Tapa has many contemporary ceremonial uses, including as red carpets for chiefs, dance costumes, mats and blankets, and for wrapping ancestral remains.

The tapa created for the project was made with all-natural materials imported from Tonga. The women artists used wooden mallets to beat thin strips of bark from the paper mulberry tree into wide, soft, workable sheets. The pieces were then joined together using a root paste to create a 16 x 24-ft. tapa cloth.

The large white cloth was placed over pattern boards made of dried leaves and their midribs, and then rubbed with natural dyes. Lastly, the women painted culturally significant motifs onto the cloth using a blackish brown dye.


From October 2003 to April 2004, Siu Tuita—accomplished tapa artist, musician, composer, and dancer—artistically guided 12 Bay Area Tongan women tapa-makers.

The artists had all moved away from their home islands many years ago and have long been resident in overseas communities. For some of the women, it had been many years since they had made tapa. For others it was their first opportunity to be involved in the entire tapa-making process.


Pieces of Cloth, Pieces of Culture: Tapa from Tonga and the Pacific Islands explored the dynamic expression of tapa cloth in the Pacific Islands and their diaspora.

Tapa cloths from Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, and Futuna were on view from the anthropology collection of the California Academy of Sciences.

Most notably, the exhibition featured the newly created tapa cloth made by Bay Area Tongan women in collaboration with the Center.

The exhibit was held in the Oakland Craft and Cultural Arts Gallery from July 12 to September 7, 2004.

Ping-Ann Addo

Cultural anthropologist and researcher of Polynesian culture, Ping-Ann Addo, PhD, joined the California College of the Arts community for the 2004–5 academic year as the Center's visiting scholar.

Dr. Addo earned her PhD in anthropology at Yale University where she researched Tongan diaspora, culture, and arts. At CCA, she taught courses on the anthropology of art and the arts of the Pacific through CCA's Diversity Studies Program.

She served as the project manager for Pieces of Cloth, Pieces of Culture, for which she organized cloth-making demonstrations, panel discussions, lectures, and special ceremonies.

Dr. Addo also curated an exhibition of tapa from the California Academy of Sciences and the CCA tapa cloth at the Oakland Crafts and Cultural Arts Gallery. Additionally, she published an accompanying, full-length exhibition catalog entitled Pieces of Cloth, Pieces of Culture: Tapa from Tonga and the Pacific Islands. Dr. Addo was also associate producer of the recently completed DVD documentary Pieces of Cloth, Pieces of Culture: Tapa-Making and Community Collaboration.