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Red wave converges

Solomoni Biumaiono
Wednesday, November 14, 2012

After so many years, the once famed Red Wave painters of the University of the South Pacific's Oceania Arts Centre are finally exhibiting again.

The absence of these painting pioneers of the Oceania Centre have largely gone unnoticed and with it too, much of the appreciation for visual arts.

In an effort to revive the interest in visual arts, some of the original Red Wave artists are getting together again and have put together an exhibition which opened at the centre's gallery last week.

Called "Secrets" the exhibition is seen by the artists themselves as the first exhibition of their campaign where they hope to inspire upcoming and young artists to take up painting.

Red Wave pioneer William Bakalevu who is a self-taught artist says the painters have come together with the common aim of reviving their art and to take Pacific art to the world.

"To many it's just another exhibition but we're trying to raise the profile of this genre again after it became prominent in the early days of the Oceania Centre through the efforts and leadership of the late Professor Epeli Hau'ofa," Bakalevu says.

After establishing the Oceania Centre in 1997, the late professor established the Red Wave movement the following year where Pacific visual arts hit the world with much fanfare and aplomb becoming an instant hit.

Red Wave artists received favourable reviews from art critics, exhibited at many exhibitions in the Pacific and the world and many also received commissions to paint murals and paintings that made its mark in the world.

One of the Red Wave artist that went on to establish his own art following is Rewa native Rusiate Lali.

Bakalevu along with Mason Lee, Josaia McNamara and Ledua Peni to name a few also exhibited worldwide.

"We want to inspire young people as for most of us, we think that the answer lies overseas but what we trying to do is to bring the overseas here to us and develop our own style of painting as well as our own industry," he says.

Even though the demand may have died down, Bakalevu believes that locals still don't have the appreciation for visual arts and this is something he thinks they will try and overcome.

"Fiji is still a young civilization and to us, art doesn't mean much to us. It is something foreign to us. It will take generations before people begin to appreciate the life and work of an artist," he adds.

USP's Oceania Centre acting director Dr Karen Stevenson says the "Secrets" exhibition will be the sixth such exhibition the centre has hosted this year and she agrees that more is needed to be done to help these artists.

Dr Stevenson says the artists have gone through a lot and their recent exhibition is to just create awareness as they have recently gone through difficult times.

"There are lot of variables but we would like to overcome that and so too the artists because through those difficult times they have to sell their work for much less than it was worth," she says.

Dr Stevenson adds the appreciation of art is low because of art in our culture has always been a function rather than something of value.

"Masi was used as clothing, carving is basically to make utensils like canoe and the art of handicraft is basically something to do with everyday living and survival so the value is not so much observed and treasured because it is part of everyday life," she says.

The centre has come up with the plan to put every single event into a calendar that will turn all exhibitions into an annual event and which Dr Stevenson hopes will give artists a timeframe to work with.

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