Ani O'Neill

Cook Islands / Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1971
Ngāti Makea, Cook Islands Māori, Ngāti Te Tika, Pasifika, Ireland

5 Little Piggies

  • 2005
  • Mixed media
  • Purchased, 2005
  • 2005/031.a-k

Made for an exhibition in Rarotonga, Ani O’Neill’s tiny light-hearted sculptures are inspired by a children’s nursery rhyme, This little piggy went to market. But the association is not entirely benign. In the Cook Islands, puaka, or pigs, are a common source of food, but have also contributed to significant environmental problems. In the nursery rhyme one of the little pigs eats roast beef, but instead O’Neill has stuffed her roundest pig with a can of corned beef, a staple food of the Pacific—an imported product which has undermined traditional local fishing and cultivation skills.

O’Neill is an important figure in the generation of New Zealand Pasifika artists who came to prominence in the 1990s. Using Cook Island art techniques taught to her by her aunties and grandmother, including crochet, sewing and tivaevae (appliqué quilt-making), she makes work that looks at island culture from an urban perspective. Both cultures and both lived experiences are present in her sculptures and installations at once. O’Neill’s work often incorporates a social dimension, including holding markets or providing her viewers with opportunities to learn new textile skills. “I feel quite privileged to have these skills”, says O’Neill. “I know a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to learn these kind of things from their grandparents any more. I thought it was a responsibility to pass it on.”

(Your Hotel Brain 13 May 2017 - 8 July 2018)

earlier labels about this work
  • This little piggy went to market White plastic shopping bag and black pearls

    This little piggy stayed home Kiriau, a natural fibre of ’aute, or hibiscus bark, and black pearls

    This little piggy had corned beef Bouclé wool, tin of corned beef and black pearls

    This little piggy had none Plastic bottle, Lurex and black pearls

    And this little piggy cried ‘wee-wee-wee!’ all the way home Crochet cotton and black pearls

    Inspired by a well-known nursery rhyme, Ani O’Neill’s playful crocheted pigs were made for an exhibition in Rarotonga. The unusual materials she has used relate to a range of social and environmental issues there. For example, she has stuffed the plumpest of her pigs with a tin of corned beef instead of the roast beef called for in the original rhyme. Introduced by Europeans, corned beef soon became part of the staple diet in many Pacific cultures, leading to a decline in fishing, cultivation and indigenous cooking skills. Pigs were traditionally prized as symbols of wealth and plenty in Cook Island society, but they have also caused major environmental problems and their waste increasingly contaminates the once-pure lagoon waters.

    O’Neill was born in Auckland and learned traditional Cook Island art forms from her grandmother and aunties. Since graduating from the University of Auckland in 1992, she has exhibited in New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific and the United States.