Plans for art gallery

IN a country where the art sector is at a fledgling state and where local artists continue to face challenges to have their own space, it was a great welcome when the Government announced that there would be a National Gallery of Contemporary Arts (NGCA) in the country.
In September 2017 Government, through the Ministry of Economy, commissioned the carrying out of a visioning for the future National Gallery of Contemporary Arts (NGCA).
The Fiji Art inVision team that would be carrying out this work include Inngrid Leary, Meijing He and Elise Huffer. Their findings and recommendations will allow the Government make the final decision on its set-up.
“The idea to first put up such a national institution was floated back in 2007 but it kept being stalled,” said Ms Huffer.
“Now it’s back on track and there’s a lot of excitement about it.”
Ms Huffer is a former cultural adviser in the Pacific region at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). Her role was promoting the cultural sector around the region. A passion that she says helps define a country’s wellbeing and its identity.
“There’s nothing more important to people than their identity and how they represent themselves and their beliefs. Those beliefs are contained in their culture and art is the expression of that. To me it’s a reflection of continuity and time,” she says.
“Often people think oh contemporary arts as just something that is in this instant but it’s really a reflection of where people have come from and where they’re going to and the linkages between those.
“I mean art exists everywhere but you can tell what’s Pacific art, you can tell if something is from Samoa, Solomon Islands or Fijian because of its distinctive features but its also the role of contemporary arts to draw on that and draw something new for the younger generation in a continually and fast changing world so I think that’s what’s interesting about Fiji’s National Gallery.”
The building in which the gallery is planned to be housed at is the St Steven’s Building, a structure that was first built in 1917.
It’s an ambitious plan to finally resolve some of the issues our local artists have been facing for decades.
Some of the issues that also came up while the Elise and her team were holding consultations with stakeholders was the lack of awareness about arts, and contemporary arts, particularly out of urban areas.
“So one of the things that we want to create with the gallery is to expand that,” she said.
“You can really expand that through children having access to art or art education. It brings a new dimension to Fiji.
“In terms of space one of the issues for schools and for artists today is the lack of space to create like for rehearsals, studios and that’s very limiting. So I think there’s a lot of anticipation that this gallery will solve some of those problems.”
Another exciting aspect to the national gallery is that finally a huge collection dating right from the 1950s will finally have a home at the galley once it’s put up.
These collections had been kept at the Fiji Arts Council all these years.
“Apparently some of the early works were gifted, and then the rest of it is really from the national art exhibits that’s been held annually so the winners of whose works are in that collection,” said Ms Huffer.
“It’s quite a big collection that needs to be housed. So I think there’s certainly excitement and relief that it’s finally going to have a proper home.”
So how important is to have such a national institution, we ask?
“From a lot of different points of views it is important to have this gallery,” says Ms Huffer.
“One is from the artistic and the artist point of view, it’s a reflection of contemporary Fijian society.
“From the visitor’s point of view, it’s very important because currently when visitors come to Fiji, there’s no art space for them to see what Fijians are producing today. It’s not only a missing element for Suva but also for the country.
“When you’re talking about a national gallery the hope is also that the people of Tailevu, Namosi, Serua, Ra, Vanua Levu etc will want to come there, will want to participate in the gallery and it’s a space where we can bring everything together.
“At the moment we don’t have that. We only have the commercial cinemas. There’s not really a theatre for arts; a national gallery is really important for access to culture and arts and access to arts and culture is part of culture rights and culture rights are a part of human rights. So they’re no different from human rights.
“I think Fiji is about to sign on to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights & International Convention Economic, Social and Cultural Rights so this is part of it.”
The Fiji Art inVision team is expected to submit their findings and recommendations to the government by July this year.

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