At its heart, The Veiqia Project involves seven Fijian women – five visual artists and two curators – on a journey of artistic and cultural enquiry. It is a project grounded in Museum-based research of Fijian women’s tattoo, development of new visual artwork and an exhibition programmed to coincide with the Pacific Arts Association (PAA) International Symposium taking place in Auckland in March 2016.
Our agenda is to access and confront the collected histories of Fijian tattooing, integrate the experience into new artworks and engage both the Pacific and arts communities in Auckland, as well as the audience of the PAA, with an artistic conversation between the past and the present, the ‘collected’ and the ‘collector’.
A series of interconnected events created the foundations of The Veiqia Project:
- Luisa Tora co-curated Vasu: Pacific Women of Power at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in 2008; it was the first exhibition of women artists to be held at the Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies. Ema Tavola contributed curatorial advice, and facilitated the inclusion of Waikato-based Fijian-Māori visual artist, Margaret Aull, whose participation was funded by Creative New Zealand. The project was a huge success and within the context of matrilineal custom and Pacific feminisms, the exhibition stimulated lengthy discussion around the lost art of female tattooing in Fiji.
- Inspired by Vasu: Pacific Women of Power, Ema Tavola went on to curate two exhibitions of Fiji women artists; For Fiji, Ever Fiji and Fiji Times (both 2009). She continued working with both Margaret Aull and Luisa Tora in both exhibitions and in 2013, she co-curated Margaret’s solo exhibition, Concealed Ancestors which was informed by a research trip to Fiji Museum and in 2015. Luisa Tora featured in Between Wind and Water, an exhibition project Ema produced for Enjoy Public Art Gallery in Wellington, also supported with funds from Creative New Zealand.
- Ema visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira Pacific storeroom and encountered some civavonovono (breastplates) that evoked a strong emotional response; she made a series of paper collage works in January 2013 and sold them to raise money for Cyclone Ian relief in Tonga.
- Margaret Aull commissioned Ema to design a custom tattoo inspired by Fijian tattoo practice and her cultural mixedness. She was tattooed in April 2013 and a blog post written about the design remains to be the most viewed content on my website.
- Both Tarisi Vunidilo and Ema delivered research papers at the Pacific Arts Association International Symposium at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada in August 2013 which was also attended by Margaret Aull. A highlight for all three was the Fijian Collections session and connecting with Principal Researcher, Fijian Art Research Project and PAA President, Professor Steven Hooper.
- Luisa Tora undertook an internship with the Pacific Curator’s Desk at Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira in 2014. During this time she: identified the names and provenance of items in the Museum’s Fiji Collection where possible; helped determine areas in the Collection that had strong provocations for performance work by the Fiji-based VOU Dance Theatre during Fijian Language Week; and selected Fijian tattoo combs from the Collection and wrote a description that was then translated into Fijian by Joana Monolagi for the Te Kākano display case.
- Tarisi Vunidilo designed and implemented Marama Ni Viti for Pasifika Education Centre in South Auckland from April-June 2014. Luisa Tora and and Ema Tavola attended the four-week course on Fijian women and leadership learning from class facilitator, Joana Monolagi, a range of cultural skills including understanding traditional garb for weddings and the layering of mats and masi (barkcloth) at funerals.
- Luisa Tora worked with Joana Monolagi on her work, Na qio! Na qio! [A shark! A shark!] for The Drowned World curated by Daniel Satele for Tautai Trust in December 2014. She asked Joana to teach her how to make a Fijian woven salusalu (garland); they then worked together to make the work from customised laser-cut Perspex.