The largest and most comprehensive exhibition about Fiji ever assembled opens today at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, on the campus of the University of East Anglia, for a four month run.
I paid a visit for the press preview of Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific yesterday. I’d love to go back again for a browse – and I long now more than ever to make it to Fiji for what I imagine must be a visually stunning paradise, not just for its far flung island setting but for the material culture as well.
The exhibition features more than 270 works of art on loan from exhibition partner the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology at Cambridge, the Fiji Museum, the British Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford, and museums in Aberdeen, Birmingham, Exeter, London and Maidstone. There are loads of fascinating European paintings and historic photographs, but the highlights are the handcrafted pieces of Fijian origin.
Among the items I found most exciting were the many wood and ivory carvings as well as the displays of barkcloth – from antique to contemporary pieces for ordinary everyday use to exalted haute couture masterpieces. The real showstopper though was the full-sized and seaworthy drua (sailing canoe) commissioned specifically for the exhibition. As is the case with so much that’s crafted across the South Pacific, I love how simple yet stylistic design results in even the most practical objects (like an octopus lure or a headrest) having rich aesthetic value and singular beauty.
For wannabe South Seas beachcombers and smart design devotees, a browse around this show is a guaranteed fun and enlightening outings.
Curated by Professor Steven Hooper with co-curators Katrina Talei Igglesden and Karen Jacobs, Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific runs from 15 October 2016 to 12 February 2017. Tickets cost £12 (£10 concessions and free for member, UEA student members and patrons.
The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts is located on the campus of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, NR4 7TJ.
Find out more at scva.ac.uk/art-and-artists/exhibitions/fiji-art-and-life-in-the-pacific.