'Making the Invisible Visible' - The Pacific Arts Association Conference

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi ,

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A LEGEND AT LEGENDS CAFE: Internationally-renowned, contemporary, Pacific artist, Papalii Fatu Feu'u plans to talk about the role of Arts in Samoan society.

A LEGEND AT LEGENDS CAFE: Internationally-renowned, contemporary, Pacific artist, Papalii Fatu Feu'u plans to talk about the role of Arts in Samoan society. (Photo: Elizabeth Ah-Hi)

This year’s Pacific Arts Association Conference which opens next Monday 27th promises to be rich in selections not just for the arts enthusiasts, but for those interested in tapping into their creative sides.

The Pacific chapter of the Pacific Arts Association is pleased to present this year’s conference which is inspired by American anthropologist and curator of Oceanic ethnology, Adrienne Kaeppler who posed the idea that a key role that art plays in Pacific societies is to ‘make the invisible, visible”.

In plain terms – through the arts and especially performance arts, people can express what cannot be expressed in words alone.

The five-day conference will begin with a kava ceremony and the opening of an Art exhibition with the theme ‘We are the bridge between two worlds, the visible and the invisible’ which is being put together by artists; Papalii Fatu Feu’u, Vanya Taule’alo, Josh Bashford from Christchurch  and Sam Savetama from the village of Siumu. 

A recipient of the prestigious James Wallace Art award, Papalii Fatu Feu’u is an internationally-renowned artist who is also acknowledged as a pioneer and mentor in the Pacific Arts Community of New Zealand.

Commuting between New Zealand and Samoa, Papaliimentors young artists in Samoa using both his experience and resources to assist in their development.

He is helping out with the Poutasi Art Centre in his village which opened shortly after Samoa’s major tsunami in 2009.

The Centre was opened to help those affected to process their grief through the medium of art and it is place that is deeply important to Papalii who plans to talk about the Art Centre at the Conference.

“My role in the conference is organizing this main visual art exhibition to highlight Samoan contemporary art. Helping out with the Poutasi Art Centre in the village where I was born.

The Centre is part of those things born out of the devastation of the tsunami – this is what I want to talk about and not in a negative way but in a personal way because it’s quite an emotional thing.

The impact that it had on social change in the village was evident – the high chiefs of the villages now believe that art can have a healing effect on both the young and old people. 

Papalii  along with his colleagues in the Samoan Organising Committee for the P.A.A. conference hopes that this event will help lift the profile and the role of the Arts in Samoa knowing that not only can Art help bring about social change for Samoan people but also be a pathway to a lucrative career for those in this country,

“Samoa now has a word now to describe fine arts. The thing is in Samoa, they say their art is a way of living - which is true because every day you express yourself in an artistic way. It’s in the way I talk to you and the way I talk to the chief in my family or the chief in the next village. We have visual art in the malu and the p’ea and when it comes to our fine art such as tapa and fine mats, I keep telling the world when I’ve been travelling the last 35 years around Europe, that Samoa have been doing abstract art for a long time.”

“I’m not ashamed to tell the world about it – my art is selling very well now and its going up to $100,000 per painting now and I’m very proud of that because it helps my family and it helps the next young artist.

When those young artists look at my paintings they can say ‘Hey, I can just as good as you Uncle Fatu or I can do it better” and that’s the kind of mentality that I want to teach these young people”

Papalii has had his share of critics who thought him crazy for pursuing a profession that people would consider unreliable and unrealistic. It took years of hard work to become established and celebrated enough to reach the levels that Papalii has reached in his career  and Papalii credits that to his commercial art background where he learnt not only to be a good artist but how to sell his art too.

“I was working for a marketing department for 12 years as an industrial designer for a commercial company and part of my job is learning how to sell concepts and ideas for textile buildings – so I thought why not use that expertise to sell my art”

The conference will also honour the life contributions of the late Seiuli Alan Alo who was the president of the Samoa Arts Council. The 5 day event boasts presentations and contributions by distinguished Pacific artists from around the region and some will be facilitating workshops each day lending their expertise which will be open to the public for participation. 

Each day promises something new and every day will be dedicated to an aspect of the arts such as Performance Day, Film Day, Literature/Spoken Word Day and Film Day which the public is encouraged to attend

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