Currently I am working as a private consultant for The Value Chain Analytical Group PARDI-ACIARof the University of Adelaide. In short I am on a research project in Ba, a little town far off the tourist trail in the north of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, for all together 7 weeks. I am up skilling a group of 10 women and one man in the handling of mother of pearl to produce souvenir and jewellery items using the side product of the famous Hunter Pearls from Savusavu, Vanua Levu. The group is part of the Ba Women’s Forum, an umbrella for some of the many women’s clubs operating in every village here and calls itself WoW (women of work/ worth). The ladies are mature women who are trying to gain skills and knowledge that might help them setting up a sustainable cottage industry with the prestigious ‘Fiji made’ accreditation.
My assignment is to set up a professional shell working workshop with wonderful top of the range equipment (without going green with envy) that has been funded by the Universities of Adelaide and Suva. Further I am translating mass produced neck pieces from Bali into local designs. Little do we tourists know that most of the souvenir items sold in shops or by locals at the beaches are actually made in Southeast Asia. Part of the outcome of this exercise is intended for Robert Kennedy, a fashion designer from Sigatoka who will present his fashion range and our neck wear end of May at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva. In addition I have to design a production line to be sold at the ubiquitous Tappoo department stores. The ideal is to leave the group with the skills required to keep designing, producing and promoting their authentic and indigenous mop jewellery.
My challenges are many and remember I am NOT sitting at a beach sipping nice drinks. Ever heard of Fiji time? Fun when on holiday, not so fun when working within a very tight time frame. Ever contemplated the complexities of aid projects? Extremely complicated and at times very frustrating. However, it is a fantastic experience, the wonderful people, the multicultural aspects of Fiji, the awesome food (think spicy Indian), and walking home tired from a days hard work (yes, hard work) up the hill past a lush green tropical scenery to my charming Filipino guest family, hearing a muezzin calling from a mosque, some Hindu chanting in a temple and gospel singing in a church, all within a few hundred meters. Sounds like heaven to me. And it is warm, always.
Clay beads and vau have arrived from Natunuku village.
Clay Beads from Natunuku Village
Just outside the village of Natunuku in the province of Ba, is the special place to collect black clay for making beads. The clay gets sifted through to remove all stones and grit. Water in which cassava (an edible starchy tuberous root) has been boiled and some sand are mixed thoroughly into the matter to make the soft clay firmer. White sand from the beach is used first but to make sure the clay retains its black colour sand from the muddy black mangrove area of the sea is added later on. This mixing in of sand and cassava water is continued till the clay has the right consistency. To check a roll of clay is formed and wrapped around a finger. If the roll does not break the clay is ready to be used. It now has a smooth and almost oily consistency. The beads need to dry in the sun for 1-2 days. Then they are put on the ground and a fire is build over them using mangrove wood. For black coloured beads the firing time is 2 hours and for brown coloured ones it is 4-6 hours. After firing the beads are lightly varnished.
During the time it takes to make these beads the women are not allowed to have sex. Women who are menstruating are not allowed to make beads. These restrictions are called tabu and are still in place today.
Voivoi cord made by Kini
Voivoi is the fibre of the long, sharp blade-like leaves of the pandanus plant. First these leaves are boiled and then laid out to dry in the sun. Once dry the wrinkled leaves need to be smoothed out by pulling them back and forth over a metal rod or file. Now they are ready to be cut into thin strips to be used for weaving. Voivoi is sold in rolls at the markets in its natural colour and in black. Black voivoi is made by boiling the material in a leaf from a little shrub. Almost every Fijian home features hand woven voivoi mats. Kini from our group is using the fibre to weave the cords for our neckpieces.
Urmilla is modelling a Paddle sample of the production line
Naz is modelling a sample of the Triangle range
Sai is modelling a sample of the Banana Boat range
Sisi is modelling a sample of the Vula (moon) range
Bula, WoW Ba proudly presents a sneak preview of some of our pieces for the Robert Kennedy range for Fiji Fashion Week in Suva end of May. These are our ingredients plus mother of pearl and a lot of work and patience:
Samples of the Robert Kennedy range and our work at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva
Samples of the Robert Kennedy range and our work at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva
Twenty years after the closure of the Crafts Council of New Zealand, a new national organisation has been founded to advocate for the country’s crafts. Craft Aotearoa was heralded by a large crowd at the New Zealand Academy of the Arts on 6 September 2012. It coincided with the opening of Kete, an exhibition of work from participating New Zealand craft galleries and accompanying forum.
Craft Aotearoa is led by Jenna Philpott, who conceived the idea after spending time with Craft UK, when she saw the positive impact of having a national craft organisation. The names ‘Craft Aotearoa’ and ‘Kete’ have a distinctly bicultural meaning. This was welcomed by Toi Maori, who joined in as partners in both the exhibition and talks. Warren Feeney, director of the NZ Academy, coordinated the four day event.
Keri-Mei Zagrobelna at her work in Kete, the craft fair at Wellington
The range of galleries was impressive. Highlights included the carved Corian tiki by Rangi Kepi, Matthew McIntyre Wilson’s woven copper kete, the resilient Christchurch gallery The National, the edgy work from Whiteriea’s jewellery students, Anna Miles Gallery, Masterworks, the ceramics of Mia Hamilton and the inventive products coming from F3 Design in Christchurch. Indeed, there was a lot of talk about Christchurch at Kete, as residents battle on into the second year without reconstruction. Despite these challenges, a new powerful spirit of creativity seems to have been forged amongst those who remain.
Reuben Friend, curator at City Gallery, (extreme right) showing a mallet by Lionel Grant, housed in a specially made box by Tim Wigamore (on extreme left). He made the point that the taonga (cultural power) was as much in the box as in what it contained - a statement some strongly disagreed with.
The Toi Maori forum was particularly interesting. Mention was made of the Maori designs that Rangi Kipa made for underwear to coincide with the Rugby World Cup. While this was seen by some as degrading, Rangi defended his work on the basis of implicit acceptance by his elders. The forum demonstrated that there is no one position when it comes to the relation between tradition and opportunity in Maori design practice.
Mia Hamilton's ceramic wall jewellery
It will be fascinating to see where Craft Aotearoa goes from here. Clearly ObjectSpace in Auckland represents the front stage of craft and design, exhibiting cutting edge work. But there does seem space for an inclusive organisation that can offer a broad spectrum of artists with a common story. The craft fair Kete was particularly promising and it would be great to see it grow in coming years – perhaps even with some Australian representation.
As an Australian, the whole weekend was a captivating experience. It was refreshing to witness such commitment to a constructing a national story through things.
I only hope that we won’t have to wait another 20 years before we can come together to celebrate Australian craft like this. While the Federal funding for Craft Australia was meant to be channelled into a national craft strategy, the first year has been taken up with the cost of winding down the organisation. As yet, there has been no public consultation about what the next three years will bring.
With the support of crowd-funding, Australia has been able to maintain its global link through the Australasian Craft Network, which will be recognised at the upcoming World Crafts Council General Assembly in Chennai next month. Now with Craft Aotearoa as a partner, there’s the potential for a strong regional network that can demonstrate the importance of craft as a lingua franca in our part of the world.
Gina Narayan is a product of the Pacific Indian diaspora. Her forbears arrived in Fiji as indentured labourers for the sugar plantations. Born as a third generation Indian in Fiji, Gina’s family moved to Australia, where she eventually developed a profession as digital marketer. But to re-connect with her past, she has taken to a much more material medium, jewellery.
Her works draws on the material legacy of her family’s journey. Most of the Indians who arrived in Fiji were illiterate, so the story of their past rested particularly on the material remnants of their previous life. The Rajasthan origins of Gina’s family were most real in the bells that they retained. Gina has developed her own line of jewellery out of her worldly experiences under the label ji – Inspirations of Fiji.
These are her descriptions of work for the exhibition Welcome Signs.
Gina Narayan 'Term Deposit' coral and silver coin
Coral and Silver coin – Red coral symbolises cultures that have come to the shores of Fiji in search of a new life (either by choice or as indentured labours). The Silver coin a significant symbol of the Indian influence in Fiji’s past.
Gina Narayan 'Dusky Moon' black onyx and shel
Black Onyx and Shell – Onyx, the core of Fiji with the shell representing & being a significant symbol of its indigenous past. The red corals among the strong Onyx represent other cultures that have come to the shores of Fiji and are now an integral part of Fiji.
Fran Allison is a New Zealand jeweller who interprets the ornamental traditions of her region within the context of her own cultural heritage.
Fran was born in New Zealand but graduated from Middlesex University and the Royal College of Art, London. She has shown her work in number of solo and group exhibitions including Assorted Titbits at the Dowse Art Museum and JOC (Jewellery Out of Context), which toured internationally. She currently lectures at Manukau Institue of Technology.
Her work for Welcome Signs is a Daisy Doily Chain, made from deconstructed crocheted white doilies collected from second hand shops. The daisy stems are made from lollipop sticks. According to Fran, ‘Each doily retains some trace of the women who lovingly crafted and used them.’
The daisy chain is one of the most common childhood encounters with the idea of jewellery. After romping through fields, children settle in a daisy patch and start making chains for each other by knotting their stems. Fran combines this game with the doily, which was one of the most common forms of needlework producing covers for household objects.
Living in the Pacific, Fran’s work also connects with the lei, the floral neck wreath used to honour guests. Fran’s Daisy Doily Chain creates a kind of lei for someone of European heritage (Pakeha) who is born in the Pacific.
You are invited to participate in a major marketing event to introduce the work of PIC’s artisans (Fine Art, Basketry, Weaving, body adornment – shell and bone jewellery, wood products and artisan pieces based on traditional knowledge) directly to Australian consumers, designers, retailers, importers and the Australian media. In order to dispel the perception that these pieces are made for the tourism market, the event will be held in Paddington at the Global Gallery. The site lends itself to ‘feel’ of the Pacific, not too stiff, a little rustic, warm and welcoming. It is a large open plan warehouse space located within 100 meters of Oxford Street. The gallery owner is very excited at the prospect of partnering with PT&I to hold a Pacific event. Participation in the event will be open to creators from the 14 PICs. Creators are invited to submit an expression of interest: Download FORM. The Creative Arts service offering to the PICs creative arts sector will be to provide the venue, engage with the participants as the event manager, act as the Australian facilitator, provide framing and exhibition support. PT&I will actively promote the event, guided by and in consultation with Trish Nicols Agency. The successful applicants are expected to provide the products as submitted in the EOI (or by negotiation with the Creative Arts manager), product information, personal bio’s or creators statement and product photographs, undertake the freight of their work (to and from Sydney), insure their products (to and from Sydney and for the duration of the 14 day event) and are expected to fund their attendance at the exhibition for a minimum of one week. Participants attendance costs include travel to and from place of origin, arrange an Australian Entry Visa, accommodation and daily expenses.
If you are interested in partnering or becoming a sponsor, you will find more detailed information at www.pacifictradeinvest.org.au and go to the Creative Arts section. It is expected that the event will deliver : To the PIC creators
insight into Australian consumer purchasing habits
direct feedback from the consumer market
opportunity to engage with potential importers, designers and other commercial opportunities
Some products that we are seeking :
barkcloth, masi, siapo, tapacloth
wooden and metal sculpture – contemporary and heritage art
textiles – tivaevae, elei prints, hand printed fabric
wooden products -wooden bowls plain or with mother of pearl inlay, tables, salad servers
We know that Pacific Island populations spread out well beyond the islands themselves. Countries like Australia are home to many from the islands who proudly continue to engage with their culture beyond the seas. But what does it mean to be a Pacific Islander living in a wide brown land like Australia?
Maryann Talia Pau has quickly shot to prominence as an artist able connect her Pacific roots with urban Australian aerials. Though born in Apia, Samoa, she moved to New Zealand while only one year old. She fondly remembers growing up in West Auckland close to family and in a church community, though religion seemed more about the making than the praying. Time was spent singing and making craft. At school, Maryann remembers constructing elaborate flower compositions for school competitions.
At the age of ten, her family moved to Melbourne where she initially felt out of place. This was further compounded by her experiences in high school where she felt different and separate to the other few Samoans attending the school. This was also Maryann’s first experience of being called fair-skinned by other Samoans, which she found very bizarre.
When she was thirteen, Maryann went home to Samoa with her mother and sister, her first trip home since she was born. It was also to mark Maryann’s entry into High School. While she was there, the island experienced a violent cyclone. She remembers staying in her mother’s village where, despite the mayhem outside, everyone was calm — just ‘going about their ‘business as usual. Such was their strength and organisation and knowledge to continue and thrive.’
At Melbourne University, she found a collective who were also exploring what it meant to be Indigenous. There was resonance with the Stolen Generation – ‘I could relate to the whole dislocation thing.’ She has since continued this association through her art. And on a personal level, she started a family with a Murri man from Queensland. The experiences of growing up away from family, of relocating several times with a young family and wanting to engage with the Pacific Island community has prompted the desire to show her art publicly.
Her inspiration for making art came partly from a weaving circle at the Selling Yarns 2 conference in Canberra, 2009 where she worked together with the Elcho artist Roslyn Malŋumba. Maryann remembers Roslyn saying, ‘”You are meant to weave.” It felt so natural and right to be weaving. And to be weaving with a mother from this land, that was special!’
Her first break came with the Craft Cubed exhibition city/country at Craft Victoria, last August. Maryann made a breast plate using salvaged pieces from an ie toga (Samoan fine mat) and shells collected over several years. This breast plate is called Fa’amolemole, pe mafai ona tatou lalaga faatasi? (Please, can I weave with you?). Then she found a place in Precious Pendants at Object Gallery, where she created another breastplate called Mo lo’u Tama (For My Dad), an artwork celebrating her family’s 20 years in Australia. Both of these pieces recycle materials collected and gifted and are mixed with synthetic materials such a satin ribbon. Earlier this year, Maryann’s enthusiasm for Rosanna Raymond’s Tapa Jeans collected by the NGV led her to be invited to show companion works for the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program, which became the exhibition Fashioning the Mana. A total of four adornment works were installed in the Oceanic Gallery, the first contemporary work by a Pacific Island woman for the Gallery. Maryann’s work is currently showing in a group exhibition called ex.o.dus at Blacktown Art Centre, NSW where she has the precious ie toga which she has salvaged and kept for future works.
Maryann’s work repurposes traditional Samoan craft to make the kind of overt statements necessary in a noisy urban context. She transforms the collective fala (mat) into individual breastplates, embroidered with shells to proudly proclaim its culture. Making art has enabled Maryann to maintain a connection with Samoa, as she sources materials and objects. The sacredness of each piece is delivered through the materials which have either been gifted especially to Maryann or passed on with the belief that they will be turned into something new, beautiful and meaningful. Even though she left Samoa when she was only one, the strength of island life seems to be something that she carries with her, propelling her forward to share and participate.
Maryann is fiercely positive, hopeful and energised by the dynamic creative representations of the Pacific Islands. ‘The response so far to Pacific Island artists based in Australia has been very affirming. There is still much more we can do, but we are definitely visible and there are great things coming.’ The story is just beginning.
Early notice of an exhibition of jewellery from the Asia Pacific region
The World Craft Council are hosting a conference in New Delhi, 4-6 February 2011. The event is titled Abhushan: Tradition & Design – Dialogues for the 21st Century. A key element in this event is a series of exhibitions surveying jewellery from different world regions.
For the Asia Pacific region, works will be gathered that respond to the theme of welcome, using the garland as a reference. These garlands are typically given to honoured guests and are either made of flowers or have a floral design.
At a time when there are tensions regarding global migration flows, it seems important that we sustain traditions of welcome. But given limited access to flowers, are there alternative materials that can be used? Also, can these otherwise ephemeral works be transformed into longer-lasting objects, such as jewellery, that can testify to bonds of friendship.
The Asia Pacific region has a rich set of traditions that bestow a garland or neck-wreath. These include:
var mala ceremony in Indian weddings
phuang malai Thai garland
East Timorese tais
salusalu welcome wreaths and leis from the Pacific
selendang (welcome) in Indonesia
medals in Australasia
The exhibition Welcome Signs: contemporary interpretations of traditional garlands will contain works that draw from such traditions for use today. At early this stage, expressions of interest are welcome. Please send them by 30 June 2010 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The recent Wasawasa Festival of the Oceans in Suva was a golden opportunity to meet with members of the broad Pacific community. One of the stalls I admired most was created by the Tuvalu community. The stall was decorated with a wonderful range of crafts, including leis for dancing, elegant fans, tiputa garlands for weddings and ti-ti skirts. One wall had a complex display of shell necklaces, usually given when returning to the island.
One of my favourites was the fo, or garland used for dancing. It is usually made from fresh flowers, but these were made to last. They had intricately folded pandanas leaf with flowers made of shells and seeds.
I was greatly impressed in meeting a representative from Tuvalu, Mrs Tagifoe Taomia. Mrs Taumia told me that after celebrations, these craft objects are usually hung on the walls to decorate homes, particularly of those from Tuvalu who have come to Suva for education.
Given all the resources in Fiji that are lacking in Tuvalu, I asked Mrs Taumia if it matters to her that the island still exists. She told me emphatically, ‘There’s no place like home. You always want to go back to Tuvalu. And when you grow old you want to go back and stay there.’
Even though a small population of 12,000, Tuvalu represents a unique story of a vibrant culture. Though the expatriate community carry the culture in their hearts, it seems they do not continue to make traditional objects. The crafts are still only made on the islands. This seems an important factor to keep in mind with rising ocean levels – we can re-locate people, but much of the culture remains attached to the land.
As the Swedish proverb goes, ‘Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.’ It is heartening that Tuvalu has a strong voice in the current Copenhagen negotiations. Let’s hope the world listens.
Senaloli Sovea at the Wasawasa Festival of the Oceans
As a matriarch of the Fijian craft scene, Seniloli expresses a strong commitment to traditional values. The first value is silence when being taught. ‘You watch! If you ask questions, half the time you forget. Your head will be creating new ideas.’ The second is to keep it personal. ‘I don’t want to be taken in by retailers. I’d rather sell it on the price that I am happy, and that’s it.’ This doesn’t just mean a good return to the craftsperson – it can also mean giving something away as a gift.
I was in Fiji to participate in a craft workshop organised by the Fiji Arts Council with the Pacific Arts Alliance. This coincided with a remarkable cultural feast.
The second Wasawasa Festival of the Oceans brought craftspeople from across the Pacific. Under one tent were gathered makers from Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cooke Islands, French Polynesia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Aotearoa and, of course Fiji. It was a spirited gathering, particularly when the Tongans were in full song.
The festival coincided with the Miss South Pacific Pageant, which may sound clichéd, but turned out to be quite serious. Environment was the theme of this year’s contest. Over a gruelling week, each island’s representative had to demonstrate not only their beauty and charm, but also their cultural depth and political aptitude. As much as anything, the contestants provided elegant hosts for some stunning traditional fabrics and jewellery. Thankfully, Miss Fiji ended up winning the crown, and her thoughtful speech would put most politicians to shame. Next year it moves to PNG.
The Wasawasa Festival also included the first in what will hopefully be a series of craft workshops for local practitioners. For an outsider palagi (white person) like me, it was a wonderful way to learn about the local scene. Where people happy in their craft or did they seek something more? Was it becoming increasingly difficult to produce traditional craft? Did the tourist market seem limited to kitsch curios? Was there interest in product development and export?
One has to be careful here. Hidden in this questions is the assumption that it is the responsibility of the outsider to fix the problems in a poorer country. This certainly seems the foundation of much Australian involvement in the region. But craft challenges that position. As Seniloli noted during the workshop, packaging your culture for foreign markets involves many compromises. What was previously exchanged as part of meaningful rituals is now reduced to the universal currency of dollar bills. Objects disappear into the ether, rather than building a chain of reciprocation.
But if it’s a choice between sustaining or losing a tradition, it may be a compromise that makers feel is necessary. In which case, there are ways of building on the phenomenon of ethical consumerism to extend this symbolic chain across cultures.
Representatives of the ANZ Bank discussing micro-finance
The workshop covered a range of topics, including ethical trends, supply chains, micro-finance, Fair Trade and Traditional Knowledge as Intellectual Property. Fiji is pioneering quite an important application of Regional Framework for the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture developed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in 2002 (can be downloaded here). This involves a cultural mapping of traditional knowledge throughout the villages of Fiji and the establishment of a system whereby use of these materials can be vetted and authorised. It’s a daunting project, but they are nearly half way.
During the workshop we heard a number of stories about opportunities for export had been lost because local makers were unable to meet deadlines due to unexpected contingencies. While this was initially attributed to lack of experience in doing business, there were some who thought that they were right to put personal obligations first.
To bring out the issues further, we adapted the role play previously titled ‘Good Intentions are Not Enough’. This time, the ‘Big Picture’ focused on the supply chain that stretched from an Andean village to a craft store in Vancouver. As happened previously, there were many hitches initially as the first products failed to gain sales in the urban market. However, this time, two new strategies emerged. First, the artisans decided rather than change their traditional methods to style a poncho, they would simply produce the yardage and have it finished in a factory down in Cuzco. Second, one of the parents decided to directly support the designers and artisans, rather then purchasing their products. The workshop showed how new pathways open up when there is a sense of partnership between producer and consumer.
The workshop concluded with a feeling that more needed to be done to connect craftspersons together, to learn of opportunities and to host future workshops dealing with specific issues like business skills and packaging. This provided an auspicious context for the launch of the Pacific Craft Network, as part of the Pacific Arts Alliance. This has the potential to re-establish a presence for the World Craft Council in the Pacific region.
In all, the workshop was powerful testament to a renewed spirit in craft across Fiji and the Pacific. This craft is much more than kitschy souvenirs for tourists. The challenge now seems to be how to build on these strong foundations.
The following days gave me the opportunity to get to know the craftspersons a little better. But that’s for the next post.