Pacific artists make a big splash in Sydney | Pacific Beat

Pacific artists make a big splash in Sydney

Pacific artists make a big splash in Sydney

Updated 21 February 2013, 18:36 AEST

Thirty-seven artists from seven Pacific Island nations have launched the most broad-ranging exhibition of contemporary Pacific art ever mounted in Australia.

Called Maketi Ples or market place in recognition of the economic value the arts can have for small island countries, the exhibition is being staged with the backing of Pacific Trade and Invest, the Pacific Forum's trade promotion agency.

More than 200 people crammed into Sydney's Global Gallery in the inner-city suburb of Paddington, for the launch.

Jemima Garrett was there for Pacific Beat.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speaker:Pacific Trade Commissioner, Caleb Jarvis.Giles Peterson, an art curator on the selection panel for Maketi Ples.Frances Do'oro, from Solomon Islands. Lalovai Peseta from Samoa. Vanya Taule'alo Samoa

GARRETT: The dynamism of the Cook Island dancers at the opening of Maketi Ples reflects the breathtaking array of artworks on show, from intricate carving on ancient whale bone, to sand paintings first devised to keep young men in Papua New Guinea out of trouble with the law.

This is the third time Maketi Ples has been held and the quality of the works is up there with the best.

Sydney-based Pacific Trade Commissioner, Caleb Jarvis, says it is paying dividends.

JARVIS: In three years we have helped sell over $220,000 worth of sales for Pacific Island artists and we are very, very pleased about that. (Cheering)

GARRETT: Giles Peterson, an art curator on the selection panel for Maketi Ples, says the exhibition is attracting interest from across the globe.

PETERSON: We now have major museums around the world not only collecting customary work, which they have always done, but really a broad cross-section. So there is a lot of international interest in this exhibition as well, not just within Australia and New Zealand and the South Pacific but further into the United States and in Europe. Maketi Ples has now become a significant event on the cultural calendar internationally, raising a lot of international interest by curators working around the world in the area of contemporary Pacific arts.

GARRETT: Some of the artists on display, like Tongan weaver, Sione Maileseni, and PNG's Billum-wear designer, Florence Juakae Kamel, have exhibited at Maketi Ples before and seen their work bought by major institutions.

Others like Frances Do'oro, from Solomon Islands who sells her fabric designs and hand painted T-shirts through her Facebook page, are here for the first time.

DO'ORO: I am very excited to be part of Maketi Ples. I know my work will be promoted to other countries so i am hoping I will get a good market out of this.

GARRETT: Why don't you sell in the local market? Why only online?

DO'ORO: I do that because what we do back home is we don't really have really have a patent thing where you can have your own unique products. People normally when they see what you do, they try to copy what you do so I try to protect my style. That is why I don't sell on the streets, I only sell to overseas people and to the friends that I know.

PESETA: My name is Lalovai Peseta. I am from Samoa.

GARRETT: This is the first time you have been to Australia. What did you think when you walked in and saw all the paintings of all the Pacific artists here, hung?

PESETA: It is really amazing, you know. It was a big surprise when I walked down to the Gallery and I saw my work right in front of the front door. It is just amazing.

GARRETT: We are standing here in front of your painting which is incredibly striking. It is a green picture with figures with traditional Samoan tattoos. Just tell us a bit about the painting.

PESETA: Ok. The painting is really a strong message from the bible, maybe the end of time, or the end of the world we are all going to go back. We came with nothing and we have to go back with nothing. That is really, the tattoo is dripping down so you are not going to go with anything. Just leave it here.

GARRETT: Lalovai Peseta is one of a group of 9 artists at Maketi Ples who exhibit at the Vanya Taule'alo Gallery in Samoa.

Vanya herself is showing prints and a large abstract painting.

TAULE'ALO: The one here is about, Maluapapa is about our feeling of identity is gained through our relationship with the cosmos. And I have symbols in here that are earth, that are mountain symbols, that are sea symbols, that are people working together type of symbols, that are protective symbols, symbols for hope and symbols, the black ones, for the journeys we take in life. So you could read my paintings, like this one, it's a narrative.

GARRETT: We've just moved over to stand in front of some very fine wooden bowls and some candlesticks. Tell us about these?

TAULE'ALO: Keely is a cousin of ours and he lives in a very remote village, Ua'fato. He's got a dense amount of carving on the outside, black on the inside as well that are also densely carved. And the blacks ones are made by putting them in the swamp mud, and then just some of them are left plain. If people want to use these as kind of utilitarian objects and put fruit or something in them, it's best to just have that natural colour inside.

GARRETT: Making a living from art is difficult, especially for artists living in remote parts of the Pacific.

The Vanya Taule'alo Galley in the Samoan capital Apia is just two years old.

Dr Taule'alo says Maketi Ples is hugely important for the future of Samoan culture and Samoan artists.

TUALE'ALO: In Samoa I'm the only effective gallery that's running. The government and the community really don't support the arts. We absolutely struggle, and so it's important that we're obviously going to have to go outside of Samoa to get any recognition really.

GARRETT: The crowd at the opening of Maketi Ples was as enthusiastic about the art as it was about the dancing.

The works are on display until the tenth of March.

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