Saturday, May 17, 2008


THERE is always something about an artwork or craftwork that depicts the world around us.
For an artist such as James Epi Satavu Tabulawaki, putting thoughts and creativity into carving wood sculptures is inspiring.
James returned to Fiji more that year ago after spending about 12 years in the Land of the Long White Cloud. While in Wellington, he mastered the art of wood carving after learning the skill from Maori friends.
Born and bred in Fiji, James is of Fijian and Samoan decent. His father Sairusi Tabulawaki is a policeman from Nadroga while his mother, Maria Maisema worked as a diplomat for the New Zealand embassy in Fiji.
Sixth in a family of seven children, James was brought up at Sigatoka Village. Like many young boys coming of age, James never thought about what he wanted to do in life.
"When I was young, I didn't think about what I would do. We had a simple upbringing. I attended primary school at Mount Saint Mary in Nadi. In 1994, we moved to New Zealand and lived in Wellington. I then attended Auckland Grammar. I was able to make a lot of friends and some of them were Maori. They taught me how to carve.
"At first I didn't like it but over time I learned how to appreciate the art. I became interested in wood carving. It made me want to get back to my culture and learn more about my heritage but this wasn't something I planned or ever dreamed of doing."
In 2002, he attended a Maori school to learn more about wood carving. He returned to Fiji at the end of 2006 and put his carving work on hold. He said he did not do much upon his return to Fiji because he did not have the time for it. Like most youths, James spent most of his time hanging with friends and partaking in the occasional grog sessions. However, a turning point in his life was meeting with renowned local artist Craig Marlow whose mother is Liebling Marlow, the first Miss Hibiscus in 1956.
"I met Craig and told him I did carvings back in New Zealand. He took me to join the National Trust of Fiji where I did voluntary work at the Sigatoka sand dunes carving driftwood for the park as well. I spent a couple of months there before coming to Suva to join Craig at the Pacific Arts Alliance.
"Wood carving has become very interesting for me. In fact, it has become my life. Every morning when I wake up, I start carving. It makes me happy and I like what I am doing. I am able to focus on creating different carvings and designs on wood. Believe it or not, when I carve, it is as if I am communicating with the wood."
He is also grateful to the alliance for providing carving tools for his work.
To define the character of an artist would be impossible and if there is one thing that makes them stand out from the rest it is their natural instinct and passion for creativity.
"This is still a learning experience for me but I am determined to make the most of my skill.
"I might stick around a bit longer but maybe one day I might consider starting my own business. I had some of my tools from New Zealand but the Pacific Arts Alliance also bought some tools for my work which I am grateful for," he said. There is an art exhibition coming in July sponsored by ANZ bank and that is where James will join other artists and display their carvings and sculptures. James is an example to other youths.
He has shown that through hard work anything is possible.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online