Is in the eye of the

Art Amerika ex­plores Art Story and pho­tog­ra­phy by Amerika Gre­wal.

Island Life - - Contents -

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 amerik­a­gre­wal@in­ter­na­tion­al­tran­si­

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 sai­, 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.

Ad­di­tional read­ing

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 mari­esthi­ www.mari­esthi­

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