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In touch with Art

Solomoni Biumaiono
Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Katrina Steel is an Australian volunteer with the Fiji Arts Council and for her it is something of a challenge especially coming from Melbourne, a city which is considered to be the culture centre of Australia.

The Fiji Arts Council is the coordinating body for the preservation, development and promotion of all art forms particularly visual and performing arts.

After spending the last seven months working with the Fiji Arts Council, Steel has made Fiji her home and come to appreciate the treasure trove of traditional art and culture the country has.

"Yes there has been a lot of support from the French and New Zealand governments towards the arts and culture sector here in Fiji where they support local shows by artists and artisans," Steel says.

Originally from Queensland, Steel has recently completed her masters in museum studies and world heritage art which has put her in touch with ancient art and something which she found so plentiful in Fiji.

As an artist herself she still feels that the attention given to the arts is not what she would have liked it to be.

Steel says in the 20 years she spent living as an artist in Australia and other parts of the world she had rarely come across contemporary Melanesian arts in galleries or showcases around the world.

"That was way back in the 1990s and now that I have come into my second career, it has hardly changed also but I do hope to be part of something that will expose arts in Fiji at home or even abroad.

"That is especially for contemporary Melanesian art which is underrepresented in the Asia Pacific triangle," she says.

Recently alongside officials from the Fiji Arts Council Steel is working on a project in the Northern Division called the Vanua Levu Cultural Creativity Project.

The project is a clearly developed plan which is aimed at preserving traditional arts while at the same time, turn it into income generating projects which can help people earn a living from their traditional arts and handicraft-making knowledge.

"Somehow despite a well laid out plan which by the way is also part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals have not attracted enough support which is sad because that is an oversight, as arts can help alleviate poverty."

"I think everyone's attention is on the environment right now but the arts are not appreciated or a priority, even locally where it is not in the public domain," she adds.

Steel says they have not given up on the Vanua Levu project and she is optimistic that they still may launch it early next year.

Another project that she really wants to work on is to have a formal calendar which is widely available to members of the public on the arts and cultural events that is happening.

"There used to be one before but then again that in itself is not so widely available to the members of the public and I am of the hope that we can create another one which has to be part of the public life," Steel says.

However Steele has seen many negatives than positives in the local art circles and she hopes that her efforts would be put to good use in the next 15 months she will be spending in Fiji striving to get the arts to be appreciated more in the country.

"We've got globalisation and if we don't take ownership of our culture then we risk the Coca Colalisation of our culture," she added.

Corporate companies, foundations and donor agencies do also help Fijian contemporary and heritage artists put together shows.

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