Pacific Storms, art exhibition: 3 June – 12 July 2009

By Emmanuel Narokobi

Many of you may remember the wonderful Jocelyn Leahy from her Beyond Art shop in Port Moresby. Jocelyn is certainly a dynamo when it comes to the art scene with over 22 years of experience behind her she will be bringing to us her latest effort which will be one of the biggest exhibitions of contemporary PNG art to be displayed in Australia. The exhibition will be called Pacific Storms. Here’s a write up below of how it all came together and what it will be about.

Pacific Storms is Pacific now

pacific_storms_3Living 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. It is through this understanding and mode of practice that the Bundaberg Region Art Gallery will undertake one of its most challenging and broad curatorial projects. This project, Pacific Storms will bring to regional Queensland an exhibition that aims to challenge perceptions and question our understanding of Australians closest neighbors, the Pacific Islands. Rarely does the smallest island in Tonga or Tuvalu have significant collaboration or engagement with the regional hub of Bundaberg. However over the past 18 months these and many other Pacific Island counties have been forging closer affiliation with the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery. Co-curating with Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery – Pacific Curator, Joycelin Leahy will bring together artists from ten Pacific Island countries to an exhibition that 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 predominantly primitive art. Through this unique perspective, display and interpretation of Pacific art it is also hoped that this exhibition will provide and opportunity for Australians to develop a better understanding of Pacific nations and their cultures. Within this context the exhibition will showcase over 50 artworks by leading Pacific artists as never before been shown in any Australian Regional, State or National art galleries.

Crossing international borders and time differences co-curators Joycelin Leahy and Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery’s Exhibitions Officer, Bianca Acimovic recently caught up and talk about some of the finer points of the exhibition. Just over 18 months ago Joycelin and Bianca began discussing the representation and display of Pacific artists, with Joycelin’s involvement and experience in the Pacific art, combined with Bianca’s community engagement and grassroots approach to curatorial practice, Pacific Storms embarks on a journey that will bring to Australian shores a ‘new thinking’ and approach to Pacific contemporary arts. Through the unique curatorial approach of Pacific Storms, this exhibition and its associated programs strives not to stereotype Pacific arts, but aims to capture the viewer and draw attention to Pacific culture in the contemporary sense as seen through the eyes of Pacific artists.

“We want Australia and the world to see our art from a different perspective. Our traditional heritage and customs remain within us and can be interpreted through our values and our sense of place. But our drive and passion for how the changes are affecting us is very strong” Ms. Leahy continued, “We are also the children of the now generation and we are affected by global changes. We have views and we are concern about what is happening in our societies. Global issues are our local problems. In the past, Pacific contemporary art has been viewed largely as a style drawn from traditional legends, tribal markings, national identities, and ancestral heritage.” The exploration of contemporary issues in this exhibition will introduce a new art style where Pacific artists are conscientious of their local issues and through their contribution, they are documenting major social and environmental concerns of the Pacific people. In response, Co-curator Ms Acimovic said, “While this exhibition intends on presenting current social and environmental concerns of the Pacific region, this region is unmistakably intertwined into the Australian east coast, as such the concerns of the Pacific people are not unlike the concerns of all Australasian.”

In addition to the exhibitions international significance, the region of Bundaberg has a long and rich history with the Pacific nations, with many of the Pacific countries forming the diverse labor force that established Bundaberg and the surrounding Queensland east coast. Acimovic said: “Launching this exhibition in Bundaberg is a means of our contemporary societies acknowledging the significant influence that the Pacific nations have had on the Bundaberg region. This exhibition is an opportunity to rebuild relationships, affiliation and collaborations of contemporary Australians and Pacific people”. In upholding this desire to instigate, reaffirmed and enforce theses relationships, Pacific Storms is engaging with a diversity of community organisations including the Bundaberg House of Prayer and United Pacific Islanders of the Wide Bay. Pacific Storms is an inclusive community initiative that will bring together artists and community to share on current concerns.

Pacific Storms will be exhibited at the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery from the 3 June until 12 July 2009

(Contact Joycelin Leahy for further information:

9 thoughts on “Pacific Storms, art exhibition: 3 June – 12 July 2009

  1. Many congrats to Joycelin. It will be a great exhibition. A couple of comments. Even in the early 70’s the work of Jakupa, Taba Silau, Kauage, Martin Morububuna and David Lasisi expressed social criticism symbolized by the figure of the beggar , the prostitute, or the refugee as referencing a breakdown in traditional social structure and cultural values . The work of Larry Santana is concerned with pollution of the enviroment and capitalist exploitation. Though the number of artists was not as great as will be featured in Pacific Storms. (only twenty) News From Islands exhibited at the Campbell Town Arts Centre in 2007 was a collaborative community project and was conceived in response to the City of Campbelltown’s (NSW) growing population of Pacific communities. The exhibition also had an informative catalogue with great illustrations and interviews or commentaries by participating artists. Aaron Seeto, the curator, is an innovative artist and curator. This is how that exhibition was described:
    “News from Islands marks a milestone in arts and cultural development in Sourth-west Sydney, a region that like the Pacific region, is made up of a complex social infrastructure of cultural diversity and networks, multiple and shifting identities, states of connection and dissonance, movement and interchanging of information. It is the energy created by news coming, going and changing that has a vitality that challenges how ever expanding cities like Campbelltown (seemingly never ending suburban landscapes) exist with discrete levels of social streata that once opened flow endlessly.

  2. Exploring challenges

    By Geraldine Panapasa – Fiji Times, Sunday, May 31, 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.

  3. Hi

    thanks for supporting fijian artists and their artworks. I live in Fiji and there is not much support towards our artists. the fijian artists who participated at the pacific storms festival worked so hard and spent so much time in their work. In Fiji its either sports (rugby) or politics. I am also a close friends to artists such as Anare Somumu & Abraham Lagi. Art in Fiji is yet to reach its full potential and also its full support from the community.

    Once again I thank you for supporting our fijian artist.

    Vinaka vaka levu

  4. Hi Mere,

    Sounds like we all have the same issues in the Pacific here about getting greater public support. Well we can only start with something, but if we keep at it then things are bound to change.

    Working together and supporting each other will be the key to starting any movement.

    Feel free to email us anything you feel is worth telling the Pacific about so we can share our cultures.

    Stap Gut Na Stap Isi

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