VASU: Pacific Women of Power

Identity Complex Identity (An homage to Aotearoa) [2008]
I started this work in 2005, at the time I was a final year student completing my degree in sculpture in Auckland, New Zealand. I was strongly influenced by the autobiographical and textile approach of British contemporary artist Tracey Emin; Cook Islands tivaevae quilt makers and a recent trip to Rarotonga; art made by women and collective art making processes. Sewing had been a skill taught to me by my mother; when I left home in 1998 she had said it was a survival skill. I submitted this work for VASU: Pacific Women of Power as it represents much of the gender enquiry that is woven into my life and my practise. Returning to the Oceania Centre at USP, a strongly male dominated art space that I worked in briefly in 2001 was also significant – I wanted my work to make a bold statement about my practise and position as a female contemporary artist of Fijian heritage practising in the wider Pacific Rim creative sector.

Thanking You but the pain was unbearable (2005)
This work is an homage to Aotearoa where I have lived on-and-off for the past decade. The work was started in 2005 in Auckland, New Zealand and completed in 2008 in Suva, Fiji.

Finishing the work at Dreamtime, Pasvali Street, Suva, Fiji
Some components of the work are aerosol paint stencils and acrylic paint on canvas. It also utilises fabrics sourced from Suva and Auckland: the work is easily transportable and the base is 12 ounce canvas. There are two equal components of the work, representing my two cultural contexts, that of Fijian and Pakeha European from Aotearoa.
I was inspired by Dr Ngahuia Te Awekotuku’s book Mana Wahine during my studies, and my lifelong friend, inspirational Maori artist, activist and mentor, Yazma Smith continues to educate me on the strength of Maori women.

Rrrrrrred stag, acrylic paint on canvas
I have used the stag motif in my work since 2004. I had read something about the use of animals in art as social commentary. It interested me that this was the male of the species and researching further I grew a deep respect for this most noble creature. As a sculptor, I was seduced by the antlers and as I had also been researching Fijian war weapons, I was intrigued by the stag’s use of his antlers in combat as weapons/tools of attack and defense. Deer are an introduced species to Aotearoa, and also to Fiji where the only deer are located on Wakaya Island, an exclusive upmarket resort island where they are farmed for venison.
I’m also interested in sport hunting and the power inequality that exists between man + rifle and deer, also the prestige that is attached to trophy killing. In my mind, man versus deer minus rifle… this would be a very different story. I’m interested in privelege and inequality and the parallels of a Pacific experience living in European/Pakeha dominated [post]-colonial Aotearoa.

COLOnize: Auckland City
Colo in Fijian refers to the inland or mountain country, kaicolo meaning an inhabitant from the interior of one of the main islands or “an uneducated, unsophisticated person” (Macquarie Dictionary of English for the Fiji Islands). Living in suburban-Pacific-south-Auckland for most of the past decade, I experience mild kaicolo-ness when in cosmopolitan-Euro-Asian-Auckland-City.
IDENTITY became such a cliche training and practising as a visual artist in Auckland. As Pacific artists, I felt like we were growing an unhealthy identity complex but also that our identities were increasing complex. The five red and pink forms are derived from outlines of Tavola leaves from the Tavola tree in my parents garden, at their house, Dreamtime, in Suva.
Curators Frances C.Koya, Ann Tarte, Jakki Leota-Ete and Luisa Tora

Curators Frances C.Koya, Ann Tarte, Jakki Leota-Ete and Luisa Tora

WOMEN SHOWCASE TALENTS by Geraldine Panapasa
Fiji Times (Sunday 21 September 2008)

Imagine 46 talented, creative and innovative women – young and old – coming together to showcase exquisite and mind blowing art. The event will be huge and perhaps Fiji’s first all-women exhibition.

The Vasu: Pacific Women of Power is an initiative where female artists can collaborate and exchange ideas from all walks of life from across the Pacific. With a number of artists turned away because of space and time constraints, the exhibition is a sign of remarkable times ahead for gifted female artists in Fiji.

Meeting up with two co-curators before the launch and opening of Vasu: PWOP on September 24 was a wonderful experience. According to Frances Koya, the exhibition is open to the public from September 25 to 27. Local poet and lecturer, Frances said opportunities did exist in Fiji for aspiring artists in general but were at a minimum.

“Teachers and even the ministry can work together to create awareness. Imagine how far these artists can go,” she said.

Nodding in agreement was another co-curator Luisa Tora who explained the exhibition was a result of years of conversation between artists to come up with such an idea. The exhibition is for men and women and basically a simple message to say art is a viable option for many in Fiji.

“Much of the art at the exhibition is for sale and a percentage of the sale will go towards charity supporting women and children,” Luisa said. “There is a 30 per cent commission but most of the proceeds from the sale will go to the artist.

“Quite a number of the artists have full-time jobs and families but the response has been huge and the disappointing challenge is turning away other artists who were interested, due to time, budget and space constraints.

“Vasu hopes to promote awareness amongst women and girls that arts are an alternative employment option.”

Luisa said ideas were floating around about starting a women’s art collection and a network of women artists. Lobbying for quality education is another aim of the exhibition and with very experienced artists coming together, the show is one of a kind. A collaboration of people who explore different mediums of art, Vasu: Pacific Women of Power is unique and truly a masterpiece to be commended.

Just looking at the list of names of female artists participating in the exhibition is amazing. Female artists who have made a name for themselves throughout the Pacific – female writers, artists, singers, choreographers, photographers, multimedia artists and short films. These include the likes of Tereeao Teingiia Ratite, Tagi Qolouvaki, Mereoni Mataika, Sia Figel, Laisa Vulakoro, Shobna Chanel, Filani Macassaey, Rosie Emberson-Semisi, Teresia Teaiwa and Isabelle Meslet-Dina to name a few.

Vasu is sometimes used to refer to Fijian people of mixed heritage. The Vasu: Pacific Women of Power initiative reclaims the word vasu as being the seat of women’s mana a credible and legitimate place of power in its own right,” said Luisa.

“Pacific connections explored in the show include Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Kiribati and Vanuatu.

“Students are encouraged to visit the exhibit and to attend workshops facilitated by the artists of the initiative.

Vasu: Pacific Women of Power will be open to the public from September 25 to 27 from 9am to 5pm at the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture at the University of the South Pacific in Suva.

“It then moves to the Fiji Museum for the month of October,” she said.

Proceeds from other activities like a reading night at Traps Back Bar on September 25 will go towards writing workshops. Proceeds from a night of film, fashion, music and dance at the museum opening on October 1 will go towards art workshops.

Of the 46 women taking part in the exhibition, I was thrilled to meet two very young and talented women – probably two of the youngest artists featuring at the exhibition – 21-year old Marie Koya and just turned 20-year old Elena Baravilala. I went to school with Marie and even back then, she always had this kind of look in her eye for beautiful things. I never really understood what it was until I sat down and caught up with my classmate. Having graduated with a trade certificate in graphic design from the Fiji Institute of Technology in April this year, Marie is a photographer and a graphic artist.

“I started taking pictures when I was five years old when I got my first disposable camera,” said Marie.

“I really enjoyed taking pictures and I some times got inspired just by looking at pictures.

“Photography is about capturing a moment, getting the right amount of light to capture a moment.

“This also inspires my graphic work. I usually take a walk and at the same time capturing random pictures.”

Despite wanting to be a secretary when she was younger, Marie believes there is a certain feeling photographers get when capturing that one moment. Letting her emotions take over, most of her photographs are based on nature – leaves, trees, ponds and the beach. She sees beauty in everything as if to remind people to appreciate the little things often taken for granted.

Singer and songwriter Elena sees art differently and she expresses her emotions through her lyrics. Fresh out of high school and a law student at USP, Elena will be performing at the museum opening. Singing three of her hit songs – I Have a Dream, Tinaqu, I’m Still Here – Elena believes more exposure is needed for aspiring artists like her.

“In Fiji, to take up singing professionally you need to have a good backup and you have to work really hard,” said Elena.

“The talent in Fiji is amazing and unbelievable. I feel blessed to be able to convey messages through song and music.

“Even to get people to identify with what the lyrics and the music are saying is amazing.

“Since taking up poetry in school, I turned my poetry into music using my personal experiences.

“I think you are more original when you write your own songs.”

Elena will feature her little sister during her performance as a backup singer and believes the exposure even for her sister will be a positive step forward.

While she finds it inspiring to be able to feature in the exhibition, Elena maintains the need for more exhibitions in the future.

If these two young female artists can see the need for sustainable development of artists from all walks of life in Fiji, then imagine the opportunities that will be available to further develop young talented artists in the country.

* Vasu: Pacific Women of Power is sponsored by the New Zealand High Commission and Creative New Zealand, SPC Pacific Women’s Bureau, Embassy of France, Oceania Printers, USP, The Fiji Times, Legend FM and FWRM.

* Open to the public from 24-27 September 2008.

* An artist talk with Filani Macassey, a multimedia artist from New Zealand on Thursday 25 September at the Oceania Centre, USP.

* Painting and multimedia with Margaret Aull as well as an interactive session with Rowena Singh for art and therapy;

* A $5 entry fee for the museum, opening on October 1 where proceeds would go to art workshops; and

* Exhibition will feature a clay and pottery making workshop on October 4, printmaking workshop with Tui Clery on October 11 and a Prose and poetry workshop with Mary Daya and Frances Koya on October 25.

Fiji Times (Sunday 28 September 2008)

The Vasu: Pacific Women of Power exhibition from September 24 to 27 at the Oceania Centre at the University of the South Pacific kicked off the beginning of an era that challenges the sustainability and development of art as a viable form of employment in Fiji.

It was fascinating to see 46 women coming together to showcase and share their artistic and creative skills.

Before the launch of the exhibition on Wednesday, I met up with three inspirational artists from New Zealand. The interesting note was all three artists had Fijian ties one way or the other. For Ema Tavola, being part of the exhibition was a privilege.

Daughter of former politician Kaliopate Tavola, Ema is one of the curators of the Vasu exhibition and manages Fresh Gallery Otara for contemporary Pacific art in Manulau, New Zealand. Born and bred in Suva, Ema was raised in Europe for 14 years because of her father’s diplomatic posting and moved to the Land of the Long White Cloud when she was 16-years old. After completing Form Seven, she returned to Fiji and worked for Fiji Television Limited and FM96 before returning to Auckland after the 2000 coup.

“I started at the Oceania Centre and in 2001. I did a workshop here. I realised I wanted to paint more than just Fijian myths and legends which is what I saw most of the artists producing here,” she said.

“So my mother being a New Zealander, I was able to look to New Zealand to further my artistic development.

“I know from experience that the Oceania Centre is a very male dominated space so this exhibition is incredibly significant and historical for all these women to come together in what is really a male space.

“It’s important for other women to see the range of expression that is possible but expression is really healthy because it is about human development and it shouldn’t be something that just men do.

“It’s also not something we nourish in our school system so this exhibition is really important.”

The multi-media artist believes in the need to promote creativity instead of making artwork just to sell. For an artist like Ema, creativity is the only competitor. As a curator, Ema believes the role is to enable other artists to excel through exhibitions and opportunities.

She said the initiative should be an annual event but maintained one of the challenges faced by curators is administration. She said the art of curating is about taking the best things and making a strong exhibition which would work wonders for the sector. An idea Ema believes is not well received is condensing the artwork at an exhibition.

Simply put, she feels a thrust for the project is to get artists to make new work and the challenge would be to get artists to come up with new ideas and artwork.

“Something like this is a huge project and all these women who are curators work full-time so they are doing this after hours or during their work,” Ema said.

“But they’ve done this extremely well. I’ve been to art events in New Zealand that don’t have this level of organisation.

“I think it’s problematic to say that being a visual artist is a choice in terms of a career because it’s hard enough in New Zealand and it’s even harder here.

“What I think we can afford to promote is creativity as something you can apply to any industry so you can be creative in accounting and journalism but to incorporate an artistic thinking into everything we do.

“That’s where you can make it a career.”

Ema brought her own artwork for display at the exhibition which is a textile assemblage, fine prints and textile designs assembled together in a unique and distinctive way.

Another multimedia artist from New Zealand is Filani Macassey who was born in Suva. She described multimedia as anything other than just painting to express an idea. Finishing a bachelor of Fine Arts at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland, Filani said art is a viable business opportunity. Inspired by a lot of things, Filani said to be in the arts sector, getting a good education was the way to go.

“I’ve always wanted to be an artist and was always interested in arts. I went to Fresh Gallery where Ema was and I just wanted to be amongst more Pacific Islanders,” said Filani.

“I think this exhibition is fantastic. It’s so exciting to come here and see this happening. What we have here is an inaugural show. It’s the beginning, a big event that starts the ball rolling so it’s very good to see.

“In the exhibition, I’m using video, a moving image and printed masi from a computer rather than screen printing.

“Being an artist makes me feel excited. I really enjoy going out collecting and capturing images even thinking about how I can put it together is really exciting.”

Margaret Aull sees things differently. A painter in her own right, Margaret was always drawn to arts. With paternal ties to Fiji, Margaret is an arts registrar at Te Wananga O Aotearoa, a tertiary institution. She completed a degree at the Waikato Institute of Technology and received an award for academic excellence. Wintec provided the opportunity for her first solo exhibition in June this year and two paintings from that exhibition were on display at the Oceania Centre. Her trip down for the exhibition was funded by Creative New Zealand after submitting a proposal.

“I think all the ladies involved in the project sets a precedence to bring women artists together to be able to engage in each other’s practices,” Margaret said.

“It’s quite critical being an artist that you have networks. This exhibition will show Suva and Fiji that there’s a lot of potential here, huge potential.

“I think this should be continuous and it will get bigger and better because it will wake some people up.

“My mother had a lot to do with women’s rights in New Zealand so I’m naturally drawn to social and political issues regarding land, cultural identities and things that move me so my response is through painting.

“That’s what I love about painting. It doesn’t get edited in any way and there’s no rules to painting and creating works only certain freedoms in creating art.”

For Margaret, it is important for artists to evolve and move forward. She said if artists produced the same thing over again then their artwork would stay stagnant.

Put all that aside and these three New Zealanders have one thing in common apart from their artistic love for creativity and that is the passion to be part of what most people consider a lost cause.

The concluding paragraph of this very mediocre features article is the most disappointing part of it. The journalist’s enquiry was uber-superficial… very disappointing indeed.

4 thoughts on “VASU: Pacific Women of Power

  1. Wow amazing
    great idea by the curators
    women are so gifted but hardly noticed
    vasu will certainly show the world the real creative artistic side of womenso rich in colour values ideas and originality

    great fan of vasu

  2. I visited the exhibition last year and I was completely enthralled by the intensity of each diplay.
    Through their art work, I was touched by the aspirations and experiences of women I had never met. The exhibition was enlightening and uplifting and made me proud to have been able to relate to it at a personal level, which I think is a cruial part of development.
    Awesome stuff ladies!!

  3. Pingback: Globalisation and Cultural Identity « Dot’s CDVA Blog

  4. Pingback: Talanoa : Ema Tavola « Urban Viti

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