We are the bridge between two worlds, the visible and the invisible

By Vanya Taule’alo ,

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Poutasi crossing  - Vanya Taule’alo

Poutasi crossing - Vanya Taule’alo

A forceful and significant exhibition opens this coming Monday 27th of November as part the Pacific Arts Association (P.A.A.) Conference. ‘We are the bridge between the visible and the invisible” shows at the Centre of Samoan Studies, at the National University of Samoa. 

The exhibition highlights how artists can often be the bridge to expose political, social and environmental disasters in a way that cannot be expressed in other ways. 

The saying ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ is true. Subjects that can cause grief - recall hard times, and pain and loss are often more sensitively examined through the arts. 

The theme of the P.A.A. conference ‘Making the Invisible Visible’ is focused on concerns relating to climate change, and natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. 

The majority of presentations and workshops at the P.A.A. Conference will be from artists involved with Performance/Dance, Theatre, Film and Literature and Spoken Word. However we have included two visual arts exhibitions as part of the conference programme. 

The Visual Arts Exhibition opening on the first day of the Conference “We are the bridge between the visible and the invisible” is an exhibition of established artists, mid-career artists and a promising young graduate from the Leulumoega School of Fine Art. 

Fatu Feu’u (O.N.Z.M.) is a prominent Samoan artist who has been working as a professional artist since the early 1980’s. Feu’u lead the way for Pacific Art and artists at to be recognised regionally and internationally. He works grace many public spaces in New Zealand. 

A few days after this exhibition opens, Feu’u will be travelling to Melbourne to open a non-selling exhibition of his works at the Melbourne Art Gallery.  

Alongside Feu’u, other artists exhibiting are local artist Vanya Taule’alo, Josh Bashford from Banks Peninsula New Zealand, and Sam Savetama from Poutasi. 

All four artists have been examining and interpreting the consequences of climate change in Samoa and other Pacific Islands. 

Global warming has gravely impacted Pacific peoples, islands and atolls for decades. Pacific communities have been connected to the land, and oceans, and universe, (sky, sun, moon, stars), for over three thousand years. Their relationship with the land, sky and sea, is cultural, emotional, physical and spiritual. Generations of ‘aiga,’ (family) relationships, have developed through ancestral ties that connect family histories, and stories to place, linked by land, cosmos and sea.  

Alarmingly our islands are disappearing. Pacific lives, history and futures are no longer secure. Peoples’ very survival is increasingly vulnerable. Too frequently lives are being lost to natural disasters. 

Pacific peoples become vulnerable to a variety of weather born health issues, food sources are no longer secure and relocation to other lands is inevitable for some low lying nations. What can we do?

Feu’u, Taule’alo, Bashford, and Savetama, have thought deeply about critical questions relating to our security and survival. 

Healing prayer – Josh Bashford
Healing prayer – Josh Bashford
A post-tsunami landscape.
A post-tsunami landscape.
Save our oceans - Sam Savetama.
Save our oceans - Sam Savetama.
Save the water - Fatu Feu’u.
Save the water - Fatu Feu’u.

Feu’u is from Poutasi and he has first hand witnessed the pain and anguish of lives lost (nine) and houses, schools and churches being wiped out. I, (Taule’alo) witnessed the horror of the tsunami and took heart-breaking photographs of the devastation the day after the tsunami. 

The social and personal impact of natural disasters on populations can never be understood purely in terms of statistics. The pain and loss runs deeply and lasts forever; loss of life, habitat, plantations, crops, impact village communities and lives.  

Feu’u’s artistic response to the tsunami is intensely personal. Nine people in Poutasi were killed and Tui Annandale, the wife of Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale was the first person to be lost to the cruel force of the tsunami. Many others were to follow. 

What survivors experienced was often ‘survivors guilt’, but most prevalent was feelings of intense loss and grief and uncertainty about the future and their their coastal habitats.  

For this exhibition, I (Taule’alo) have developed photographs I took on 30/ 2009. I live at Siusega and was spared the impact of the tsunami, but our families in Poutasi, Sa’anapu, and Siumu, were devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. 

The vision in front of us was one of utter destruction and desolation. 

At Coconuts Resort, mattresses were thrown into the swimming pool and fale were totally destroyed. Maninoa, was no more. 

Sinalei, was all but destroyed, Feu’u’s collection of prints hung sideways on the walls of the honeymoon suits and the restaurant was flattened. In Siumu, our families had lost their homes. 

At Poutasi we saw a wasteland, and this is where I felt compelled to take a number of harrowing photographs. People sat stunned in disbelief, the school was flattened, children’s books were scattered around the malae and rugby field. One book was pitifully open at the page “The Wasteland”. 

Twigs and leaves were woven into the school windows and toilets were smashed and partially hidden under corrugated iron sheets and concrete slabs I witnessed people trying to move across the villages with broken bridges and debris littering what looked like a bomb had wiped everything way in its path. 

Houses were decapitated, cars were upturned like plastic toys, fridges, fale poles lay flat on the ground, clothes were scattered everywhere and hanging caught up in tree branches. People searching for loved ones, stunned, quiet, and confused. I witnessed scenes of loss, love, support, and lives cut short. I portrayed these symbolically with a pair of washed out jeans, a teapot, a toy, a single shoe in the sand. 

Each artist has taken a very personal response to the theme. Bashford has created large stunningly beautiful black and white prints and he brings to the subject faith and hope founded on his deep religious convictions. We can absorb the details of his prints and interpret and discover what he means by the titles, “Seek”, “Life Blood”, “Giving Life”, “Grace”. 

Savetama interpreted the theme by paying homage to the ocean and the creatures that dwell within it; a shark, a turtle, and the cultural symbols of tatau and siapo. 

‘We are the bridge between two worlds the visible and the invisible’ will be exhibited at the CSS a NUS until Friday 1st December and then be moved to The Vanya Taule’alo Gallery until the end of January 2018.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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