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From the sacred landscape to the profane A project for four totems - Unu - as symbols of yesterday, today and tomorrow’s
Sunday 29 January 2012
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GIFPROJECT Realization of four totems (unu) symbolizing the past, present and future of Polynesia, to be located in the public gardens


Twenty students, sculptors and engravers in their second and third year of training and three teachers of CMA, Centre of Art and Craft of Tahiti.


- Reflection and exchanges on the concept of art and craft
- In-depth in their knowledge of the ancestral Polynesian culture
- Exposure to the great artistic movements
- To put the ‘exercise of imaginative perception’ (Paul Klee) at stake
- To develop the sense of innovation
- In-depth in their artistic acquisitions: technique and know-how
- Research for ancient techniques
- Approaching to and using new materials: golden foils, perspex and mosaic



- Practising sculpture and etching
- Knowledge of the traditional Polynesian craftsmanship (symbolic: tattoo, archaeological remains and ancient sculpture)


- Video projector
- Plywood boards: 30x30, 40x30
- Plexiglass
- Copper foils
- Mixtion to gild
- Acrylic paints
- Paints
- Brushes


The steps

1. Acquisition of knowledge of the landscape with the students

To realize a totem, the knowledge of the landscape is necessary in order to make the symbolic aspect emerge: natural and cultural landscapes (marae, unus)

The marae, Polynesian place of worship, and the unus are indissoluble

The marae is an outdoor compound where religious ceremonies used to take place during which old people worshipped their god and their deified ancestors called tupuna

Each family, in the large sense of the word, owned a marae. It was the supreme chief, Arii Nui (the great king) the one who owned the most remarkable marae, where human sacrifices were practised at times.

The Unus were erected inside the marae: they are geometrically shaped wooden sculptures (wooden carvings), human or animal-like, that embody the tie with the spirit of a god or of an ancestor.

2. Employment of the pedagogical card from the Association Paysage et patrimoine sans frontière:

Dans le jarden de Théodoric: du parcours sensorial au carnet de voyage

In Theodoricus’ garden : from the sensorial experience to the travel notebook.

3. Discovery of the Liberty art movement. A new way to express oneself

The Liberty style is characterized by imagination, the presence of rhythms, colours, ornaments inspired to trees, flowers, bugs, animals. It introduces the theme of perception into the routine decoration.

It was born from common ideas and ideals as an aspiration to a common style finding its expression in diversity.

The Liberty style involves the acceptation of the differences of mode and spirit among beings as it proceeds from an ample openness of thought.

The conception around Liberty gave impulse to the rebirth of craftsmanship. It is the style of the individual artist that focuses on the artist’s work and disregards that of machines. (Source: Wikipedia).

4. Power point on the Liberty style and Gustav Klimt

5. Debate with the trainees around art and craftsmanship starting from the power point video and the presentation of Patrick Guichard’s work, painter and trainer, partner of the Association Artiste No Tahiti.

6. Power point on the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

7. Debate with the trainees starting from the power point video on Jean-Michel Basquiat, his work and his multicultural origins.

8. Realization of four totems (m. 2,40) revisiting the traditional unus erected in the worshipping places (marae) of the old polytheistic Polynesian religion.


The totem, homage to ancestors and gods, retrieves its sense: a bridge between the sacred and the profane landscape, a tale of space, an instrument for comprehending the taking hold of collective knowledge.

Five students are engaged on each totem. Each of them will work on a piece of wood (20x40) that will be fixed on wooden pillars referring to ‘unus’.

Each student has realized his/her work by employing the techniques learnt on occasion of the courses of History of Art and artistic practice, re-interpreting the contemporary cultural contributions and the traditional ones: Polynesian words and concepts such as atua= gods, tiki, *to’o… weeping god, etc.)

*To’o: Ari’i or chiefs/kings. They were in relationship with gods by means of objects, particularly the to’o generally consisting in a wooden framework covered in a tight net of woven coconut fibres and various layers of tapa wrapped up with red feathers.

Sometimes, human traits were represented on the surface of the wrapping: mouth, nose, eyes, arms, hands and navel. The object belonged to the family and was preserved in the marae in a sacred casket.

The to’o embodied the materialization of the divine: it was the embodiment of the god ‘Oro, both god of war and fertility (Source: World roundabout).

Exhibition of the Unus in the public gardens.



It will rest on the ability to:

- Take hold again of and re-invest knowledge and techniques in the context of a team work
- Set up a project and complete it
- Cooperate and help one another
- Be able to present one’s work

Patrick Guichard
Association “Artiste No Tahiti “FR

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