20 Years Of Samoan Artist’s Work Destroyed By Cyclone

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Papali’i trying to stay positive after devastation

By Jasmine Netzler

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Jan. 1, 2013) – Nearly twenty years of work by sculptor and artist Papali’i Penehuro Papali’i were destroyed when heavy floods demolished the Beautiful Expressions of Nature (BEN) workshop at Lelata.

Two weeks later, the pain from losing such precious work is obvious.

As Papali’i reflects on what was once his pride and joy, tears swell up in his eyes.

"There were many artworks inside that workshop," he said. "Many of my main works were stored here and many of them have never been displayed in public.

"I was actually planning to move them to Vaitele to our new centre where I was going to exhibit them.

"Now it’s too late. I guess the dirt and mud got to see it first. Right now, it’s a matter of trying to salvage what I can and start again."

But even trying to start will be tough. Papali’i lost many tools– including carving equipment, sand papers and other materials critical to his work.

He doesn't want to think about how much the damage has cost him. He says it’s too painful.

But the memories of that day will remain with him forever.

"The water came in fast," he said. "It climbed very high - as you can see from the markings on the wall. It happened so quickly."

The floods – brought by Cyclone Evan – flattened Lelata, Ma’agao, Magiagi and many areas of Vaimauga. It claimed the life of a Magiagi man – with two more people from the area feared dead.

The flooding brought back memories of the tsunami in 2009 which killed 143 people on the south coast of Upolu.

For Papali’i, although losing his workshop has been tough, he is trying to stay positive.

Helping him do that is his belief that God can always work things out for the better.

"It’s a time to look forward and not sideways," he said. "I am thankful to God that no one was killed inside the workshop."

For the past two years, Papali’i has also been developing a new workshop at Vaitele. His goal is to turn the centre into an international park for sculptures and art works.

The thought of that gives him strength.

"I envision Vaitele to be a location where sculptures, glass works and carvings can be put on exhibition for people to come and view," he says. "I have spent two years working on this and this cyclone is an opportunity from God for me to speed up the project."

The devastation and the loss of life brought by Cyclone Evan has also reminded Papali’i about a valuable lesson in life.

"You only get to live once," he said. "If death comes calling, I want to leave something behind for others so they can benefit from it. And that’s why I work hard. I want to develop this place at Vaitele from here on. Cyclone Evan was devastating but you’ve got to try and remain positive."

The BEN Centre at Lelata was established in 1996.

"So we’ve lost a lot of work. But we’ll see if we can salvage some stuff and shift them over to Vaitele. We want to move on."

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