ART |

mailife - - Contents - By SHARON BHAGWAN ROLLS

Por­trait of an Artist: Irami Buli

“I’ve al­ways chal­lenged my­self.” At a time when most fif­teen year olds are plan­ning a ca­reer that will en­sure fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity for them­selves and their fam­i­lies, Irami Buli was ask­ing him­self a whole lot of ques­tions. “I said to my­self, there is prob­a­bly some­thing big­ger than this. I left school at form five. It was a tough con­ver­sa­tion. I had to move out.” Buli was an in­de­pen­dent thinker from a very early age. A re­sult, he says of liv­ing in dif­fer­ent places, with dif­fer­ent mem­bers of his fam­ily. It was those thoughts and ex­pe­ri­ences which got him think­ing. As a young boy at school on Bau is­land he found him­self sketch­ing on scraps of pa­per he would find. So­ci­ety is not al­ways ac­cept­ing of cre­ativ­ity. Fam­ily, com­mu­nity and so­ci­ety ex­pect you to go to school, get a job and get mar­ried. Boys are ex­pected to play rugby not sit on the side­lines sketch­ing. And even though he was told he was wast­ing his time Buli wanted to ex­plore his cre­ativ­ity. So he left home. It was not easy and in­cluded liv­ing on the street. But it also led him to be­come the youngest mem­ber of the Red Wave Col­lec­tive in 2000. The col­lec­tive had been es­tab­lished in 1999 by the late Epeli Hau’ofa at the Ocea­nia Cen­tre based at the Lau­cala Bay Cam­pus of the Uni­ver­sity of the South Pa­cific: “I was for­tu­nate to have those peo­ple there” he says re­fer­ring to Hau’ofa and Nuie artist John Pule, who sup­ported the col­lec­tive to think be­yond the sketches they brought to the cen­tre. Hau’ofa also en­cour­aged him to read. The cen­tre pro­vided the space and re­sources. He found him­self en­cour­aged to grab a brush. To vi­su­alise. To fill up a blank can­vas. “They started nur­tur­ing and feed­ing these ideas. It was a way of learn­ing as a Pa­cific Is­lan­der. You had to teach your own self and grow from there.” The time of learn­ing was also about read­ing, learn­ing tech­niques along­side his con­tem­po­raries, to cre­ate his own dis­tinct style and carv­ing his own path­way in the art scene. To dis­cover and com­mu­ni­cate his unique voice and iden­tity even if it meant hav­ing dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions in re­la­tion to the per­ceived con­flict be­tween tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary art. Buli be­lieves there is a way to bal­ance both: “As an artist it is an­other way of pre­serv­ing our tra­di­tion” This is why Buli has cho­sen the metaphor of the mat as his artis­tic foun­da­tion to con­vey his story to

the world. “My foun­da­tion is the mat. I’ve seen my Bubu plait­ing it. I’ve seen them cre­ate these beau­ti­ful mats.” The sig­nif­i­cance of the mat was ex­plained to him by his late grand­mother. Each weave ties to­gether the sto­ries passed down through the gen­er­a­tions so that the mat be­comes a place of learn­ing, a space of equal­ity, where ev­ery­one re­gard­less of age or sta­tus is seated to­gether: “She told me that the mat was the first uni­ver­sity. Ev­ery­one, the fam­ily sits down on the mat. Ev­ery­body talks on the mat. That was my driv­ing force” The in­tri­cate struc­ture, he said, ties to­gether the dif­fer­ent sto­ries and mem­o­ries of a per­son’s life. From the time a child is born to sig­nif­i­cant birth­days, mar­riage, even at death. The mat is a sig­nif­i­cant part of the cir­cle of life. “It is a life process of my work. You are born with it. It is there wait­ing for you.” In 2004, Buli he staged his first solo ex­hi­bi­tion. It was the op­por­tu­nity to re­con­nect with his fa­ther, who ac­cepted his se­vu­sevu, the in­vi­ta­tion to be the chief guest at the open­ing. “It did change their mind­set. They saw me as an artist” To­day, many ex­hi­bi­tions, later, Irami Buli is weav­ing con­tem­po­rary vi­su­als into the tra­di­tion of art and is de­ter­mined that the fu­ture of the art scene builds on the legacy of Epeli Hau’ofa and nur­tures a new gen­er­a­tion of artists. That means in­vest­ing in re­sources for school art pro­grammes and a cur­ricu­lum ded­i­cated to the art his­tory of Fiji and the Pa­cific: “We need the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, the cur­ricu­lum that ad­vises our young ones that this is the process you need to fol­low.” Buli’s de­ci­sion to weave his own way into the Fiji art scene has also re­sulted in an ed­u­ca­tion about re­gional and in­ter­na­tional art and mar­ket and he wants to see greater value placed on con­tem­po­rary art. Lo­cal artists have lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties to sus­tain a liv­ing, re­sult­ing in un­re­al­is­tic high prices in a small mar­ket. He said re­sources are needed to sup­port artists to pro­duce col­lec­tions so that they can stage solo ex­hi­bi­tions. This would bring sta­bil­ity to the art mar­ket in Fiji. “We can’t be com­par­ing our­selves with New Zealand and Aus­tralia be­cause we don’t have a mar­ket sys­tem, the buy­ing power of art. Artists need to be push­ing them­selves. They need to be think­ing that in the next few years I will be ex­hibit­ing in the Tate Gallery in Lon­don. There are very few of us who have made it to na­tional art mu­se­ums in­ter­na­tion­ally which raises the value (of our work). And to teach that to a younger gen­er­a­tion, we need to start with the pi­o­neers right now.” He said the planned Na­tional Gallery of Con­tem­po­rary Art has the po­ten­tial to in­crease the value of lo­cal artists on the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket as well as be­ing a space for ex­hi­bi­tion and learn­ing. Art has chal­lenged Irami Buli to con­tinue to think be­yond the con­fines of norms and con­ven­tion: “I re­mind my­self to be bet­ter. I am grate­ful for my tal­ent. Art has taken me some­where that I did not dream of.” He hopes that the in­vest­ment in art ed­u­ca­tion and in­sti­tu­tions will cre­ate new wave of art ap­pre­ci­a­tion across Fi­jian so­ci­ety, that it would open needed con­ver­sa­tions, di­a­logue and de­bate about the arts. “It needs to start at home by recog­nis­ing and nur­tur­ing chil­dren to just keep draw­ing.”

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