Painting amid the pain

FRAIL and languishing on a bed in the men’s ward of Nadi Hospital is one of the country’s most established artists.

Here, Meli Laddpeter remains hooked up to oxygen tanks, breathing with difficulty but steadfastly hunched over a piece of canvas, determined to produce a work of his own for an art exhibition his contemporaries have organised towards his assistance.

It’s a harsh reality and a far cry from the usual surroundings of colour and life, but a year after being diagnosed with bronchiectasis, he remains committed to figuring out a stable future for his wife and eight children.

His hands move swiftly, and against a dreary, sinister backdrop of medical equipment and pants of agony from other patients, Meli’s art flourishes.

“My friends told me about the art show a few weeks ago, and I’m quite overwhelmed,” he said.

It’s been about a year since he produced any art, he added, and there are reserves of creative flair spilling on to pieces of canvas and bits of paper.

Scheduled from April 25-28 at the Sofitel Fiji Resort, the Breathe Exhibition itself is expected to rally the country’s plethora of gifted artists and artisians, and give the Western Division its first art show since 2012.

More importantly for Meli, its theme remains a sturdy reminder that despite his physical difficulty of simply breathing, the hopes pinned to his imagination is never beyond reach.

“I spend more time at the hospital than at home, and this is the first time that I am producing art from bed.

“I felt inspired by the exhibition’s theme of Breathe, and my experience and ill health has taught me to be grateful for the things we take for granted in life — like breathing.”

A drawing patient in his own element, he almost becomes oblivious to the wreckage of pain and discomfort, which interestingly has also propelled a rediscovery, interconnectivity and transition for the 38-year-old graphic designer.

“You know my medium is oil on acrylic. I’ve always worked with that but since I got sick, the smell of oil affects me, and now I have had to use other bases.”

When we visited last weekend, Meli had already begun working with pastels supplied by Maria Rova, another prolific Nadi-based artist. After working as a graphic artist and producing the Cloudbreak brand for S Nagindas over the past six years, working on canvas again has reconciled him to his first foray.

“I’m working on a piece that will reflect my struggles and the disease and the gift of life from God. Working from bed has really given me a new perspective and I am so grateful for the support people have given me and my family.”

Fighting off the pain, the picture of him at work is almost reminiscent of Frida Kahlo, another flamboyantly-gifted artist whose most endearing works were spruced up from a hospital bed.

Meli’s artwork has for years added dimensions of his experiences and existence and included fusions of the cultural aspects of his Fijian, Tongan and Wallis ancestry.

While he has established himself as a career artist, he encourages aspirants to avoid confining their paths.

“They should pursue art to the best of their ability and trust God, but also not limit what they are capable of.”

About 30 artists have rallied behind the fundraiser exhibition to help Meli Laddpeter.

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