‘Our arts reflect who we are’

Ema Tavola and her father Kaliopate Tavola during The Legend of Tanovo and Tautaumolau/ko Tanovo kei Tautaumolau: i Tukuni book project launch in Suva last week. Picture: SUPPLIED

OUR art reflects who we are, where we’re going and our inextricable connections to the past.

These are the words of curator, Ema Tavola, when describing her role as a Pacific art curator.

“I’m interested in this area exclusively because creativity and our arts are intrinsic in Pacific Island cultures and identities,” she said.

“Our arts reflect who we are, where we’re going and our inextricable connections to the past.

“Our creative expression is empowering and uplifting, allows us to see ourselves and opens up important conversations about the shifts and changes happening all the time in our Oceanic here and now.”

Ema, who was born in Fiji, lived her teen life in England and Belgium and later relocated to Wellington, New Zealand where she finished her secondary school studies.

“I spent two years living between New Zealand and Fiji, then I settled in South Auckland where I lived for 17 years. I’ve just returned home with my daughter in what I see as my “reverse migration,” she said.

Ema added: “At secondary school, I excelled in art more than anything else, so after two years working mostly in minimum wage jobs, I went to university in Auckland to study Visual Arts.”

She said she held a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Sculpture) and Master of Arts Management.

“I find inspiration in a lot of different places — that’s the beauty and privilege of being a creative person. In terms of artwork I love painting, I studied sculpture and I love installation art.

“Large-scale sculpture is often quite awe-inspiring, but mostly I love colour, and the way art and creative expression can be healing and transformational for communities fighting to be visible, be heard and mobilise political awareness.”

She says it’s a dream to be able to generate an income from creative work. “For a lot of artists, it’s living our best lives even though it can be financially unpredictable.

“I trained in visual arts and arts management during my time in New Zealand, and my professional experience is largely in the field of gallery management, curating, arts writing and research, tertiary teaching and community arts project management.

“I have also done a lot of work as an adviser and advocate for Pacific art and artists in the area of South Auckland, New Zealand where I lived for 17 years.” She says she aims to share the knowledge and her experience with her fellow Fijian back home.

“My sister Mereia Carling and I have been working on the development plans for an independent gallery, creative studio and consultancy that we will open in Suva in 2019.”

She said after finishing her undergraduate studies she secured a job with the local council in South Auckland and worked as the Pacific Arts co-ordinator for more than six years.

“In that capacity, I led the establishment and curatorial programing of the arts facility, Fresh Gallery Otara, produced an annual multi-event Pacific Arts Summit and produced 66 stand-alone exhibitions during my tenure as Fresh Gallery Otara manager,” she said.

“During that role, I travelled a lot advocating for Pacific art and artists from South Auckland. “Since 2012, I’ve worked as a freelance curator, but a creative career is necessarily multidimensional, so whilst being a freelance curator, I’ve done a lot of project management, research and writing, teaching and lecturing.

“I’ve also been a content creator for a health organisation and a funding adviser for New Zealand’s national arts investment agency.”

Ema is the youngest daughter of Kaliopate and Helen Tavola.