FOR someone who had no experience whatsoever in art, Peni Saimone Fong or Ben Fong as he's commonly known, has come a long way to becoming the sculptor that he is.
Ben has already established himself as one of the top sculptors in the Pacific, winning awards and commissions which has seen his artwork displayed half the world over.
After leaving high school, all Ben had in mind was to pursue a career in engineering.
Never did he dream, that one day he would be a resident artist at the University of the South Pacific's Oceania Centre of Culture and Arts.
"My background is engineering and I was right in the middle of my studies as a mechanical engineering student at the then Fiji Institute of Technology, I was asked to come and work here by the late Professor Epeli Haufa. It didn't appeal to me but the professor was very persuasive.
"I didn't know anything about sculpture but my background in welding and fabrication came in handy as I started here," Ben says.
But Ben has a secret, even though he had no prior involvement with art whatsoever before taking up residence in 1997, he has maternal links to Namuka-i-Lau, home to some renowned woodcarvers in Fiji.
Ben is one of the pioneering staff at the Oceania Centre, beginning work there in 1997 with Prof Haufa and a cleaning lady as staff members.
From there, Ben started his work and under the tutelage and mentoring of Prof Haufa, he excelled.
"My first-ever work was a metal bust of Professor Haufa. It was not according to his physical features but how I saw him as a person.
"In fact, the kind person that he is and the way he brought himself down to our level even though he was a professor and learned person," Ben says of his late mentor.
With that work, Ben started teaching himself the art, apart from furthering his knowledge through workshops and through basics like practise, practise and more practise.
His welding and fabrication background was a lot of help as working with a lot of wrought iron, galvanised pipes, mild steel as well oxygen and acetylene torches require specialised training.
"I burnt myself one time. It's not easy working with acetylene torches and especially oxygen and I still have the scar to show for that incident.
"It's dangerous and the operator has to be steady and to make sacrifice for the sake of others around him," Ben says recalling his incident.
But the burns and working with dangerous machinery never put him off as he continued his work and throughout the years his work has been exhibited in Australia, New Zealand, Pacific island countries like New Caledonia, as well as the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.
He has been a three-time winner of the National Sculpture Award, winning it in 2003, 2005 and 2006.
He was commissioned twice by the New Caledonian government to design and build metal sculptures for exhibition sites in the French-speaking nation.
He has fused wood and metal into some of his designs and even has delved into working with stones but metal will always be his forte.
His latest design is a one-metre metal sculpture for environmental group, Honour Fiji Journey.
Honour Fiji is a group that aims to promote traditional Fijian knowledge to raise awareness about the need to protect our environment.