Saturday, April 21, 2007


Ni sa bula vinaka!

Na yacaqu 'o Ema Rosemary Vasemaca Tavola. Na tamaqu 'o Kaliopate Tavola; na tinaqu 'o Helen Goodwill Tavola mai Palmerston North, Niu Siladi. Na noqu koro 'o Dravuni, mai na tikina 'o Ono, na yasana 'o Kadavu. Na noqu Yavusa 'o Natusara, na noqu Mataqali 'o Navusalevu, na noqu i tokatoka 'o Samualevu se 'o Naisaumualevu.

I was born in Suva in 1982 and raised in London, England (1984-1988) and Brussels, Belgium (1989-1998), whilst my father was working for Fiji Sugar Marketing and as the Fiji Ambassador to Belgium and the EU. I spent ten years at the British School of Brussels, and in 1998 our family moved back to Fiji. I completed 7th Form at Wellington High School, and returned to Fiji in 1999 to commence a year's work experience before embarking on tertiary education.

In 2000, I worked as Production Assistant at Fiji Television, and as the Creative Director of, the website of Communications Fiji Limited. After the civilian coup of 2000, I was made redundant and returned to Wellington to continue gaining work experience. There I worked for four months as the Receptionist of the Fiji High Commission, amongst other temporary administration jobs.

In 2001, I returned to Suva and started painting, as I was unemployed and had a lot of time on my hands! I was fortunate to be selected for a two week painting workshop at the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture at the University of the South Pacific, facilitated by John Pule, renowned New Zealand Niuean painter and author.

This workshop was the start of my awareness as artist, and helped me to identify a path in life that engaged my heart, soul and mind. I continued painting after this workshop, and managed to find a job in the challenging post-coup environment of Suva, working as a retail assistant at Wai Tui Surf. I evolved this role into a 'Visual Merchandiser' role, to capitalise on my creative strengths. I wanted to achieve more in the creative field, so my mother, an educationalist, urged me to pursue a degree, and I found the perfect programme at Manukau School of Visual Arts, in Otara, South Auckland. My goal was to complete the degree, spend four years in Auckland researching and developing a business plan to return and open my own art gallery in Suva.

I moved to Auckland in late 2001, and settled into Auckland life, living with friends, also recent migrants from Suva. I found work at a shop in Auckland City called Pauanesia, selling Pacific arts and crafts. I worked there until my course began in 2002, when I moved to Otara.

There were many points in my study at University when I wanted to go home: I missed the support of my family, especially in the cold New Zealand winter months. I am very independent, but I would get so uplifted after my Sunday night conversation with mum and dad, and whoever was at home in Suva. University really challenged me, in lots of ways. I became in Pasifika mentor in my second year to help other Pasifika students adapt to University life, a most fulfilling role that I stuck with for two years.

In my third year, I got involved with a community art gallery in Otara, which allowed me to experiment with exhibition organisation and introduced me to the realities of working within the visual arts/gallery context. I loved it! I spent my final year at University researching and developing my understanding of art curatorship, art placement and audiences, and investigating the potential and limitations of the gallery context.

I did a series of projects where Pacific (and Maori) contemporary visual arts were purposely placed in Pacific and Maori contexts, including an exhibition in suburban Otahuhu, an exhibition in print disseminated at the Otara Markets and 'Postcards from Suva', a postal exhibition!

I was fortunate to be able to return home to Suva almost every 6 months whilst studying, which helped remind me why I was here and my goal of opening my gallery. Periodically returning allowed me to monitor the changing socio-political and economic climate of Suva, which constantly impacted my gallery plans.

After completing my degree I secured what I have termed as my dream job, as Pacific Arts Co-ordinator for Manukau City Council, in South Auckland, New Zealand. Although it meant my plans of returning home to open my gallery went on hold, this position has given me incredible experience and insight into so many things that will make my gallery plans in Suva even stronger. The community art gallery I was volunteering at during my studies has recently been re-opened as a Council arts facility, Fresh Gallery Otara, and this is where I am based! I am now curating exhibitions, working with Pacific artists, developing projects and ideas, and developing the profile of Manukau City as an exciting space for the celebration and development of Pacific Arts in New Zealand.

Next year I'm involved with some excellent projects including an exhibition called "BUY SPEND SAVE NOW" about the politics of poverty and wealth, with Shigeyuki Kihara and Sieni Salesa, and a collaborative project with two Fiji artists from Melbourne, Australia: Torika Bolatagici and Salote Tawale, and Otara based video installation artist Leilani Kake. This collaborative project is due to take place in Suva in July to coincide wit a conference called "Lies: A conference on Art". My advice to young Fiji Islanders:

I always remember, as a Pacific person in New Zealand, that I am representing my country in everything I do. I represent my parents and my family, my extended family, my village... what I achieve here is a reflection on all of that. I'm so proud of Fiji, coup or no coup, I am so proud to come from Dravuni, and Suva. The strength of my cultural identity has come from my upbringing, but also my own awareness as an adult, taking the opportunity to live and work in Suva, learning by trying, sometimes feeling awkward and uneasy, all those experiences have enriched me more than I know.

Being Fijian, and having that connection to my vanua, is something no one can ever question or take away from me. It is our bloodlines and connections, whether we speak Fijian or not, whether we live in Hamilton or Hungary, we will always be Fijians.

The more I learn about Fiji and Fijians, the more I learn about why I am the way I am.

Vinaka vakalevu.