Work of art

Veteran artist Alifereti Malai stands in front of one of his paintings. Picture: SHREYA KUMAR

Alifereti Malai’s life is as colourful as the pieces he paints. His art is a reflection of a life that went through twists and turns, and the fact that he emerged unscathed through it all, is testimony to his strength and character.

The 54-year-old said he spent his younger days hustling in the streets of Suva City. “I used to draw and sketch from a young age, but I started to paint when I came out of the streets.

I’m a former shoe-shine boy and a street hustler,” he said. An unfortunate turn of events rendered Malai behind bars for 10 years.

The Ra native said this marked the turning point of his life. “As a street hustler, I indulged in certain activities which were my means of survival.

In the prison, I was allowed to paint and I used that as an opportunity to turn my life around,” he said. After completing his prison sentence, Malai sold art and craft, and scraped together enough money to study Contemporary Art at the University of the South Pacific.

“At first, art to me was about survival, but that changed as I matured and learnt from my art exhibitions and many art trips abroad.

Although I have been producing art for 40 years now, I am still learning and no matter how hard I try, I am still not perfect.”

He said art was more than a talent, he said it soothed his soul and gave him satisfaction and peace of mind.

“Even though it’s a struggle to survive as a visual artist here in the middle of the Oceania Pacific region, I still breathe and live art.”

Malai said art was all about “creating awareness, highlighting issues and making statements”.

“I’ve sent so many messages through my art for years now, but that is going to change pretty soon as I will be diverting to biblical themes like love, forgiveness, the ransom, hope, kindness and resurrection.”

Malai has won all major art awards in Fiji including the National Fine Award, Craftsman of the Year Award, Indigenous Art Award, Masquerade ‘Body Art’ and an International Diploma Art award with the latest one being Artist of the Year award in 2019, awarded to him by the then French ambassador Sujiro Seam.

The artist encouraged youths to channel their emotions through art. “My advice to young artists is to ‘fl aunt what you’ve got’ and practise makes perfect.”

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