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Exhibit challenges stereotypes of art, culture

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, June 2, 2009) – Exploring the spirit, life and challenges of contemporary Pacific people is what the Pacific Storms Exhibition is all about.

From June 3 to July 12, about 30 artists from around the Pacific including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tonga, New Caledonia, Rotuma and artists based in New Zealand and Australia will showcase their work at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery in Australia in an effort to draw away from mainstream stereotypes of what Pacific art is and who its people are.

Setting a platform of contemporary creativity integrating real issues of the modern Pacific society, Pacific Storms will exhibit 50 artworks by leading Pacific artists.

Created by Beyond Pacific Art with Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery, Pacific Storms aims to challenge perceptions while questioning our understanding of Australia's closest neighbours, the Pacific Islands.

Curator for the exhibition Jocelyn Leahy said the Pacific remains one of the few regions in the world rich in tangible and intangible heritage.

"Being rich in tangible and intangible heritage provides Pacific people with an endless source for artistic expression," Jocelyn said.

"The unique art forms are evidenced in museum and gallery collections all over the world collected over centuries.

"It is from this valuable artistic source that a selection of well-known and emerging artists across nine countries was challenged to use their heritage to create a contemporary Pacific expression.

"Living in a contemporary society that is culturally diverse and rapidly changing means it is important that the arts of these contemporary societies embrace and reflect these changes.

"The exhibition questions the present, highlights the now and draws viewers' attention to what lies under leis, sunshine and the stereotype view of Pacific Islands as underdeveloped and creators of primitive art."

Jocelyn hopes through the unique perspective of artists, display and interpretation of Pacific art, the exhibition will provide an opportunity for Australians to develop a better understanding of Pacific nations and their cultures. A little over 18 months ago, Jocelyn and the Gallery's exhibition officer Bianaca Acimovic began discussions on the representation and display of Pacific artists.

Their discussions led to the creation of Pacific Storms which strives not to stereotype Pacific arts but rather aims to capture the viewer and draw attention to Pacific culture in contemporary sense as seen through the eyes of Pacific artists.

"The Pacific region is marked by exceptional cultural and biological diversity within spectacular physical landscapes," Jocelyn said. "Thus each has their own unique way of building resilience to climate change, globalisation, security and civil unrest, HIV and AIDS, and many other social issues.

"These expressions are exhibited in the hope that wider audiences understand the complex issues through the diversity of art across the Pacific.

"As the creator of the show, I am considering running this as a bi-annual show. There has been tremendous interest in Australia and across the Pacific."

The assistance of Pacific Island artists including Letila Mitchell, director of Pacific Art Alliance and Daniel Waswas, artist and founder of Gallery PNG and Kingdom Power Ministries, adds leverage to the show. One local artist participating in the exhibition with incredible talent is 38-year old Anare Somumu who is contracted by Tokani Art Agency and affiliated to the Fiji Arts Council.

Known for his Fijian Mona Lisa piece titled The Beauty of My Humble Past, Anare has been a low-profiled artist but one whose work has captured the attention of many.

His first exhibit artwork titled Ratu, of the Fijian crested iguana was showcased at an art exhibition organised by the Fiji Arts Council and sponsored by the Australia New Zealand Banking Group in 2005. "I was always interested in art. Growing up, I was always drawing but my father wasn't content with art because he thought art was distracting me from school work," said Anare whose focus is painting surreal images.

"After high school, I had applied to do dentistry at the Fiji School of Medicine but opted to do art instead.

"I worked part-time for the Ministry of Education as an illustrator for children's story books written by local authors.

"To some extent, that experience helped develop art but I was more concerned about earning a living." Originally from Lakeba Village, Saqani in Vanua Levu, Anare did freelance art for a while before joining the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture at the University of the South Pacific in 2007.

"Before, I was more into realistic art like painting a flower just because it's a flower. There was no feeling or interpretation of the beauty of the flower," he said.

"But when I joined the Centre, I moved towards contemporary art. Paintings and drawings that tell stories, create awareness and send out messages.

"Surreal paintings, a combination of realism and contemporary art gives a kind of feeling. There's feeling in the painting.

"I decided to join the art exhibition sponsored by ANZ in 2005 and won the senior first prize and people's choice award."

His painting, The Beauty of My Humble Past, was a gentler more eye-pleasing approach to highlighting the importance of preserving Fijian culture and heritage.

The first painting, A Final Plea, had the image of fading cultural Fijian artifacts to represent the loss of some traditional values, and an image of a ghastly tree person holding out a tabua pleading for the preservation of Fijian culture and heritage. Art critics couldn't stand the image saying it had an evil look represented by the tree person but Anare's interpretation and reasoning had a stronghold on the need to maintain our cultural identity as Fijians.

"People couldn't stand the image. Critics said the piece maybe a museum piece but it was not a painting people would want to wake up to," he said.

"It prompted me to paint from another angle but with the same theme. The Beauty of My Humble Past symbolises our past, when our culture, heritage and traditions were untouched.

"There is the symbolic representation of the vanua, the link between people and the land.

Other local artists attending the exhibition include Letila Mitchell, James Mason Lee, Abraham Lagi, Lingikoni Vaka'uta, Lambert Ho and Coya Cresanta Frances. Artists from PNG participating in the event include Jeffry Feeger, Mairi Feeger, Laben Sakale, Gazallah Bruder and Joe Nalo. Pacific artists in Australia are Eric Bridgeman, Krishna Nahow Ryall and Torika Bolatagici.

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