The mutual cultural exchange between European and Polynesian peoples in the colonial era is the inspiration behind an exhibition on display in Tauranga.

Artist Jo Torr created her pieces over 18 years and brought them together for an exhibition at The Incubator as part of the Suffrage 125 Tauranga commemorations.

The exhibition, named Vahine - Wahine, consists of five sculptures depicting the transit of Venus astronomical event, cloth exchanges between the European and Polynesian cultures, and the similarity between the silhouette of fashion at the time and the ceremonial giving of tapa cloth.

There are also two 18th century etchings to give context to the works, one of the tapa gift-giving ceremony in which a woman swaddled in tapa is unravelled until all of the tapa is unwound, and the other is of a Tahitian making a gown.

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Of the five sculptures, two are dresses made of tapa cloth, two are garments made of woollen blankets - one female and one male - and one is a dress made of bamboo fabric printed with images of the notes that Captain Cook made during the 1769 transit of Venus.

Torr said men who had accompanied their female partners to the exhibition had sometimes been bored on entering, but had found themselves getting interested because of the stories behind them.

She said the sculptures had wide appeal as viewers brought their own knowledge to their experience of the artwork.

"People seem to be drawn in by the beauty and intricacy and the details. They bring their own knowledge to it as well - if someone knows about tapa, that's what they bring to their experience. If someone knows about Cook or botany or cloth making or even blankets, they will bring that knowledge and experience to what they are seeing there.

"Or someone that knows how to construct a garment or knows about historical fashion or costuming.

"It's quite layered. It can spark interest in all sorts of areas."

Torr said the exhibition was about the place of women in society as much as it was about the meeting of two peoples, which was why it fit well into the Suffrage 125 Tauranga commemorations.

Vahine - Wahine

What: An exhibition by Jo Torr that's part of the Suffrage 125 Tauranga commemorations

Where: The People's Gallery at The Historic Village

When: Until August 28