Inaugural Fiji Arts Festival – Wasawasa Festival – kick off December 1, Matelita Ragogo

Suva City, Thurston Gardens to be exact, will be simmering this week as artists from all walks of life converge for the country’s first ever arts festival, aptly called the Wasawasa Festival (wasawasa is ‘ocean’ in Fijian).

Fresh from the success of the four-yearly regional Pacific Festival of Arts in Pagopago earlier this year, an inspired Fiji Arts Council has organised a series of performances, workshops, collaborations and activities which will, amongst other things, use the arts to explore social change.

“Poetry, sculpture, mural painting, quilting, nature walks, creative writing, masi making, bird watching, live music and dance are just some of the activities that everyone is welcome to participate in,” Letila Mitchell says.

And with the festive season coming up, the Festival will include a Christmas Art Market and the National Heritage Art Exhibition from where unique gifts can either be bought or ordered.

Absolutely free of charge, the Festival opens from 6am and will run until 9pm or even later. A typical day, Mitchell suggests, could begin with early morning bird watching tour which starts from 6am and after a breakfast at the food stalls or the Kahawa Café after which one could take advantage of a historic walking tour of Suva and so forth.

The story-telling spaces are bound to enthrall you and they will let you lunch in their stall while you listen to sessions; your afternoons can be filled with a quilting workshop, helping to paint a mural, learning to make masi, taking a creative writing workshop or just relaxing in front of the sound stage and listening to some of Fiji’s top musical talent do their thing.

“The Festival has a strong environmental custodianship focus and a feature of the Festival will be the displays and activities for the public on the environment and how we can better live in harmony with the world around us,” Mitchell says.

“The Festival also has a strong social responsibility aspect, working with marginalised and disadvantaged youth and people from squatter settlements to provide alternative livelihoods and develop sustainable income streams.

“Whether you want to learn about the nature that exists in the centre of Suva, write stories about your experiences with the world around you, get information about how you can reduce your impact on the environment, or learn more about the flora and fauna that makes Fiji unique, you will find something or someone at the Wasawasa to help you.”

Another Suva landmark, Traps Bar will set up a bar for those who because of work or otherwise, can only make it to the evening entertainment which will feature short films, dance, poetry, story telling and of course more music.

No such gathering in the Pacific would be complete without providing the opportunity for our elders to share their cultural knowledge with the youth and others wanting to find out more about their roots. Daunivucu (traditional songwriters) Timoci Matakiviwa and Sailasa Tora, along with many senior artists and knowledge holders from around Fiji will be part of the programmes planned for the week.

An infusion of the contemporary will be through the contribution of internationally- renowned patchwork quilter Lee Cleland, from Australia, who will be teaching quilting techniques throughout the week; samples of her award-winning work will also be on display. Lee has won quilting awards in Australia, written two books on quilting and taught extensively in Australia, the USA, New Zealand, and England. You can join her at her space by contributing to the Healing Quilt or absorb techniques that’s guaranteed to improve piecing, appliqué and quilting skills with one of the best.

Another will be Michelle Ortiz, from Philadelphia in the USA, a lead artist for the Philadelphia Mural Arts programme which has developed over 2500 murals throughout the city. This programme involved engaging the youth and other community members to use the city “a canvas” creating walls of stories.

Ortiz will be involved in a programme that intends to involve youth people interested in coming in and learning from her, be it in groups or as individuals – you can learn techniques of painting giant murals which can be used in positive ways like passing on community healing the arts.

And of course local artists will be out in full force – whether you’re a fan of accessories created by Lambert Ho, the vivacious meke of Kabu Ni Vanua, expressive art by the likes of Lingikoni Vaka’uta, music of Arthur Philitoga, the chants of Tora, writings of Frances Koya or the intricate tapa-making and designing work of Selai Buasala, this is your one-stop shop for all of the above and more.


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