torika bolatagici

Kurunavanua: Black Bodies and War – Catalogue Essay

Fiji… To you. For you. About you.         ema tavola
By Ema Tavola

Torika Bolatagici is a kailoma Fijian Australian.

This body of work is an investigation of Pacific Island masculinity, Fiji and the economy of war. It speaks to the diversity of globalised contemporary Fijian experience and to the arts as an important outlet and platform for discussion and interpretation of Fiji and Fijians.

Conceptually and visually, Bolatagici’s work seeks to create awareness for localised concerns in response to global issues. Her juxtapositions and photographic narrative inform and invite viewers to consider their position to this 21st century Pacific reality, exposed and cross-examined. Photo by Terry Klavenes

Since Fiji’s independence in 1970, the army has increasingly provided employment opportunities for Fijian men. Military training equips them with the necessary skills to access the employment opportunities afforded by global conflict, thus generating foreign currency in the form of considerable remittances invested back to families, communities and Fijian society.

Four coup d’etat since 1987 have shaken Fiji’s economy significantly. Increased economic pressure combined with increased employment opportunities in global conflict have seen Fiji’s ‘war economy’ described in recent times as a “discount-soldier surplus store” . It is tragic and upsetting that economic needs make the risks associated with this industry justifiable; it is arguably a blatant and targeted form of legalised exploitation.

Fiji’s political climate in the past two decades has exposed the increasing role and power of the Fijian Military Forces. The seemingly paradoxical culture of Fijian coups has positioned the Military as both threat and protector, exposing alliances and economic beneficiaries of conflict and power struggle. The coup of December 2006 led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama was justified as to be correcting what was not ‘fixed’ about the May 2000 civilian coup led by George Speight and ironically was undertaken in the name of good governance.

Fiji’s military and political power struggles have become global news fodder for the past two decades. Representations of Fiji and Fijians in global media often reference either: a) coups, b) rugby or c) a stereotypical tourist paradise. For Fijians living in the diaspora, Fiji and Pacific issues within an Australian and New Zealand context are completely marginalised unless there is some peripheral interest to the international scene.

Bolatagici’s research exposes mainstream Australia’s token engagement with Pacific people and communities in an analysis of photographic and media representations. Her findings reveal that the references to the physicality of the black body and the ‘warrior’ cultural stereotype is often seen as justification for the disproportionate numbers of Pacific Island men involved in both crime and rugby. This superficial understanding of Pacific people and cultures is symbolic of the neo-colonial Euro-American hegemony which frames so much of the diasporic Pacific experience.

Bolatagici’s work exposes subtleties and critically engages simultaneously with Fijian and Australian histories. This work is important for Fiji as it documents the lives and times of Fiji Islanders in the 21st century: Its creation will be recorded and referenced, its message remembered, particularly in documenting the current zeitgeist of the Australia / New Zealand Pacific diaspora.

Contemporary Pacific Art is experiencing global recognition; internationally exhibiting artists such as Ani O’Neill (Cook Islands) and Filipe Tohi (Tonga) are at the forefront of translating Pacific visual languages into site-specific fine art forms. Pacific photographers such as John Lake (Fiji) and Greg Semu (Samoa) re-address the colonial gaze with new perspectives on documentation of Pacific lives.

Bolatagici’s artistic shift from explorations of personal identity to topics of Fijian national concern is refreshing. This work speaks for social change. In light of the current climate of control and suppression of expression in Fiji, this work is necessary and confronting.

Through the artist’s web presence, Kurunavanua is of global significance for the Fijian and Pacific diaspora and for the wider community.

Ema Tavola is a kailoma Fijian artist and curator based in Manukau City, Aotearoa New Zealand www.colourmefiji.wordpress.com

Of mixed Fijian and European ancestry.

Copetas, A. Craig ‘Discount of war fuel military boom’, New Zealand Herald (31/10/07)

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