Is in the eye of the
Art Amerika explores Art Story and photography by Amerika Grewal.
Late one afternoon I got a call from an Australian friend in town on a business trip. She had finished the business part and was ready for a few hours of shopping followed by dinner by the sea. We spent a pleasant afternoon looking over coconut and shell jewelry, Fijian designed fabrics, and wood carvings. As our time together came to an end she asked, “Where do I find Fijian art?” A simple question can sometimes be complicated and take a long time to answer. I’m sure parents of small children know this well, I wasn’t quite ready to answer this seemingly innocuous question. My friend safely flew back to Sydney and I returned to my regular life, but this time with a mission: Where can I find Fijian art? I called up one of the artists I knew personally and arranged a time to meet her at the Oceania Centre of the University of the South Pacific. It was a gray and rainy day when I arrived at the Oceania Centre to meet artist Cristina Gonzales and Johanna Beasley, the Visual Arts Coordinator for the Oceania Centre. Cristina brought artist and sculptor Saimoni “Ben” Fong with her. Over the next hour our conversation in Johanna’s office meandered all over. Roughly speaking, art in Fiji can be broadly categorized as customary, frangipani, contemporary, or Kaivalagi. But first, I had to learn a different definition of art. There is a myth that in the Pacific there is no word for art. That’s not true. What is true is that in Oceania, art is not traditionally separated from regular life. Art is incorporated into many things that before my visit I would have said were only functional items. When looking at these items with western eyes it can be difficult to discern the difference between art and craft. A useful gauge to use is the value of the item beyond its function. This could be emotional, historical, or cultural. Crafts may become elevated to art, either by the intention of its maker through the addition of colour, design, or by the passage of time. Things to include are the relationships of the individual creating it, those using it, the context in which the item is employed in addition to the visual
Previous page: Painting by Cristina Gonzalez. This page left: Silio Naulu. This page right: Hand printed sulus at USP market. Next page top: Artist Pravis Sen handling over commison work to Asco Motors CEO. Next page below: Art workshop. Next page bottom right: Eggshells and wood pieces at the Fiji Womens Expo.
skirts of traditional sulu jabas and sleeveless sundresses. Intricate weaving used in the customary art of mat making is translated into a stylish clutch carried by a diplomat. Where is art in Fiji? Art surrounds us. It is in the open kiln fired Lapita pottery bowl that is still made the same way today as it was hundreds of years ago, available both at Suva’s Handicraft Market or on a village tour. It is in the coconut fiber wrapped beams in bures all over the 332 islands and echoed in the coconut fiber wrapped souvenirs at Jack’s of Fiji gift shops. It’s the cheerful paintings for sale on the walls of the Royal Suva Yacht Club’s café as well as the motif heavy acrylics and oils at the shop and gallery within the Fiji Museum. Vacationers may find art laid out on cloth covered tables in the resorts, but also on the walls of the Waisiliva Gallery at Leleuvia. As you look over what is available, ask yourself, what does this item have that makes it more than a bowl, more than a hat, more than a wall hanging. Is it the story of the artist who created it? Is it your memory of the sunny shores and smiling faces of these islands? In the end, art is where you see it.
Amerika Grewal loves colourful designs and intricate motifs and loved every minute of her research for this article, including her purchases of several pieces in each category. She is the owner of International Transitions, a boutique business offering career development and family friendly relocation services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to buy
Fiji Museum, Road, Suva. Hot Glass Fiji, gatoka. Hilton Art Show, August of each year, Selbourne Street Playhouse, Suva. Oceania Centre, contact Ben Fong 32 32834 or email@example.com, USP Laucala Campus, Suva. Rako Pasefika, across from Vodafone Arena, Suva. ROC Market, Loftus Street, 3rd Sunday of the month, Suva. Suva Handicraft Market, Stinson Parade Road, Suva. Tagimoucia Gallery, across from Korovou prison, Queen’s Road, Suva. Waisiliva Gallery, Leleuvia Island. The Galley Café at the Royal Suva Yacht Club, Queen’s Road, Suva.
Art in Oceania. A New History (2013) by Peter Brunt & Nicholas Thomas. ‘Living art’ - a work in progress. ( 2010) by Susan Cochrane. Contemporary Art in Papua New Guinea (1997) by Susan Cochrane. Arts of the Pacific Islands (2010) by Anne D’alleva. Traditional Fijian Artefacts by Rod Ewins. The Pacific Arts of Polynesia and Micronesia (Oxford History of Art) (2008) by Adrienne Kaeppler. How to Read Oceanic Art (Metropolitan Museum of Art) (2014) by Eric Kjellgren. Artists in the Fine Art Market (2011) E. Monds. Felipe Tohi Journey to the Present, Makahoko mei Lotokafa. University of the Pacific Press, Suva, Fiji. (2015) by Karen Stevenson. The Frangipani is Dead: Contemporary Pacific Art in New Zealand, 1985-2000 (2000) by Karen Stevenson.
Stencilled bark cloth produced in Fiji is known as Masi. This cloth is used for traditional marriage, birth and death rites and for welcome ceremonies. The motifs and design on the cloth indicate the area from which it originates. When the paper mulberry tree (broussonetia papyrifera) reaches maturity (2-3 years), its bark is stripped in as long strips as possible. These strips are coiled and steeped in water for several hours to separate the inner white bark from the center bark, which is scraped away with a sea-shell. The inner bark is then soaked again to make it more pliable and tougher, and beaten into a cloth of the desired length and texture. Layers of the cloth are generally beaten together with a mallet called ike (eekae) and the resin in the bark acts as adhesive to hold them together. The edges are also adhered with starch obtained from a root called yabia (YAH-BEER) or arrowroot. When the desired size and texture is achieved, the cloth is sun-dried until it has white muslin like appearance. As this stage the cloth is known as tapa. The cloth is then stained with stencil designs cut from Vutu (VOOtwo) leaves and also banana leaves, using natural dyes of black and brown hues. The black dye is obtained from soot deposits while the brown dye is obtained from red clay. These dyes are mixed with sap wrung from the bark of the mangrove tree.
am sitting at Nambawan café, admiring the stunning views of Port Vila harbour and the impressively huge bamboo that supports the newly-built natangora roof. I am here for a ‘girls’lunch’ with Marie, woman-canada, co-owner of Etam, and pottery artist ‘extraordinaire’. Marie has been a regular visitor to Vanuatu since 2001.
Coming almost every year to visit her family, each time was harder to leave. In 2012 she took the plunge, packed her Canadian life into a container and farewelled the snow. She is the proud co-owner of Etam, the family business that opened in 2011 to the delight of the female population in Port Vila. Her heart is in pottery. After completing her visual arts degree in Quebec, she enrolled on a three-year pottery and ceramics program. ‘There were ten of us in the first class I attended and we spent the entire three hours kneading clay. It was the first and last day for many but I loved it.”
In 2009 she won the ‘One of a Kind Award for Excellence in Ceramics’,
presented by the Gardiner Museum, Canada.
She loves the technical aspects of pottery making.
Her pottery is functional, yet each of her pieces is completely unique and an art piece itself.
Marie shipped her complete studio across two oceans,
including all her pottery and each one of the hundreds of bricks that make her kiln.
She travels to Paris each year to hand-pick Etam’s clothes
and lingerie from its French collection.
One of her favorite things is her surfboard.
When she is not ‘pottering about’ in her study or surrounded by lovely lingerie at Etam, you can find her at her local surf break on Pango, nurturing her love for the waves.
Her favorite places in Vanuatu are the neighboring islands of Pele and Nguna,
where she likes to spend her weekends. In Efate, she loves Pango point, “for the beauty and quiet solitude that it offers”.
She treasures family time
with her brother and is totally smitten by her nieces, Ulyssia 9, Auguste 6 and little 2 year old Eleanor.
She loves Vanuatu for the wild and unspoiled beauty of the country
but foremost, for the warmth of its people. “Living in Vanuatu I am reminded every day of how kind people can be. That they embraced me with open arms is the biggest gift.”
On her ‘to do’ list is a visit to the Bank Islands.
“I have not had the opportunity to visit yet but hope to get there soon.”
She is living the life she dreamed.
“I feel so privileged to be living the simple ocean life that I have dreamed of for years”.
She can speak French, English, a little Spanish
and is currently trying to get her Bislama up to scratch.
In May last year, she held a very successful exhibition,
her first in Vanuatu, together with renowned artist Sophie de Garam at the Espace Culturel Francaise.
Her pottery is available at Etam and Pandanus shops or by contacting her directly firstname.lastname@example.org. www.mariesthilaire.ca.