About Isabelle Staron-Tutugoro
I was born in 1964 in Saint Symphorien-sur-Coise, a village near Lyon (France). But despite having my first show when I was 15, it was not until I travelled to the South Pacific at the age of 22 and witnessed the colours and light of New Caledonia, that I felt truly inspired to paint.
Marriage, a child, and 22 years living in the village of Poindimié, New Caledonia, drew me closer to the Kanak culture. This exposure, and an intense interest in indigenous symbolism, (petroglyphs but also engraved Kanak bamboo, oceanian Tapa and Lapita poteries) has led me to explore other Pacific islands cultures over the last 23 years. I spend all these years researching petroglyphs in New Caledonia, Samoa, Cook Islands, Hawaii, Australia and Tasmania, Easter Island, Vanuatu and Tahiti.
New Caledonia is fortunate to have retained many historical petroglyphs, especially in north-east, where I lived. The motifs I use in my woodcuts, linocuts and mixed media paintings are motifs of petroglyphs found in the Nambai valley, the ancestral lands of my New Caledonian (Kanak) family. Most of them are anthropomorphic or cross motifs. I believe these petroglyphs were carved to leave us a history, knowledge or a story regarding particular families, tribes or clans. I interpret them through my works as different stages of the circle of life: birth, pregnancy, family… I feel something special, mysterious, and sacred in their presence. The rocks onto which the original petroglyphs were carved are enormous, and you can feel only humbled and respectful in front of such amazing works – especially with the knowledge that they were created without the use of power tools!
Today, a very small number of people know how to ‘read’ this carved heritage. Christophe Sand, a famous archeologist of New Caledonia (and an associate of Professor Roger Green), has released a reference book about petroglyphs, entitled: «Kibo, le serment gravé» (Kibo, the engraved oath).
I pay tribute to the culture and heritage of the Kanak people, to whom I direct my work.
Since 2001, I share my time in between New Caledonia and New Zealand. I obtain the talent visa in 2003 and permanent residency in New Zealand in 2005. As a self-taught artist, I acknowledge the guidance of New Zealand artists such as Jeff Lockhart, Andy Leleisi’uao, and Llew Summers.
My works have been exhibited in New Zealand since 1996, as well as in New Caledonia, France, Australia, Rarotonga and Samoa. A highlight was a show during the 8th Pacific Art Festival and a retrospective of the last 10 years in my home town in October 2006. 2007 was the year of a major show : “XÖÖMWÊ, XINA, GAAŘA” ; HIER, AUJOURD’HUI, DEMAIN ; YESTERDAY, TODAY, TOMORROW » at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Nouméa, New Caledonia. Also, the ‘Maison de la Nouvelle Calédonie’ - Paris, France, show my work in November 2010.
A series of major exhibitions also happened recently in the South Pacific and in France to celebrate my 50 birthday. I was the first Artist in Residency in Oceanian Museum – Lyon – France in 2018.