Bahai News - Art on Fijian bark cloth reflects unity in diversity
Art on Fijian bark cloth reflects unity in diversity
CANBERRA, Australia, 25 November 2000 (BWNS) -- Artists Robin White of New
Zealand and Leba Toki of Fiji recently opened an exhibit at the Helen
Maxwell Gallery here of collaborative works on tapa (bark cloth) that won
widespread admiration for their uniqueness and harmonious blending of
Western and Fijian artistic traditions.
Ms. White and Ms. Toki are both highly regarded artists and members of
the Baha'i Faith. Their collaboration was "not just a way of experiencing
new forms of artistic expression," said Ms. White, "but also a way of
demonstrating the potential for people from very different cultural
backgrounds to work together in harmony, in a positive and creative manner."
The opening of the month-long exhibit on October 20 was attended by the
High Commissioner of New Zealand, Simon Murdoch, and the Counsellor of
the Fijian High Commission, Akuila Waradi. Mr. Waradi spoke during the
brief formal portion of the opening, and he expressed his pleasure at
having the opportunity to view art work that was the product of
collaboration and said the work was "very different and very beautiful."
The three works, each approximately two meters by two and a half meters
revolve around "tea" as a symbol of people coming together in a convivial
atmosphere, a symbol which is common to English and Indian culture and
has been incorporated into Fijian culture as well. The designs,
integrating European and Indian imagery with traditional Fijian patterns,
are based on the packaging of three well-known products: Punja's Tea and
Rewa Milk, which are very commonly used in Fiji, and Chelsea Sugar, which
is produced and sold in New Zealand from sugar grown in Fiji.
"While for some, tea, milk and sugar might seem like a rather
superficial expression of togetherness, we were interested in taking the
idea of having a cup of tea as a means for conveying a deeper
significance and investigating a broader theme, that is the possibility
of different cultures being able to come together harmoniously, to honor
and celebrate their diversity and to share in the pleasures and benefits
of this world," said Ms. White. "The work is about the process involved
in exploring the interface between cultures and arriving at a visual
metaphor for the concept of unity in diversity."
Tapa was chosen as the medium because it is inseparably associated with
indigenous Fijian culture and other indigenous Pacific Island cultures.
"By using tapa to convey designs that include recognizable Indian and
European elements, we aimed at suggesting the possibility of one culture
embracing, in a positive way, features of other cultures, and that this
process generates change without necessarily compromising the essential
values that form the basis of a secure sense of identity and belief,"
said Ms. White. "Leba and I wanted to produce a work that could not have
been done by either of us on our own, something that sits at a fine
balance between what is familiar and traditional and what is unexpected
and new. In recognition of this goal, the set of three tapa have been
titled 'Cakacakavata,' which means 'working together.'"
The project came about when Ms. White was visiting Ms. Toki at her home
in Fiji about three years ago.
"I questioned her about some samples of tapa that she had in her home. Leba
explained that she had made them herself and that she came from the island
of Moce, one of only two islands in Fiji where tapa is made," said Ms.
White. "For some time I had been attracted by the particular aesthetic
quality of Fijian tapa and had a long-held desire to experience the making
of it. This prompted me to ask Leba if she would be interested in entering
into a collaborative art project with me and she readily agreed."
The set of three tapa has been purchased by the National Gallery of
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