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Fa'aola - 2010

The recent Tsunami in Samoa resulting in the destruction of whole villages and loss of loved ones has been a strong catalyst in providing inspiration for F ...

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The recent Tsunami in Samoa resulting in the destruction of whole villages and loss of loved ones has been a strong catalyst in providing inspiration for Fatu Feu’u’s new exhibition. The Samoan Tsunami is also a firm and jolting reminder of current environmental unease. Feu’u’s own village has been decimated and the people must pick up the pieces, replant crops and rebuild homes while learning to cope with the devastation and loss of life. Feu’u’s latest series is a rallying cry to his people, a call for action to spark the regeneration and rebuilding process.

The large work Aso Fanau, sets the tone for the exhibition. Aso Fanau refers to “meaningful and formal discussions, a resolution to take action – an agreement and firm resolve to come together in a time of need”.¹ The basis of this painting is one which depicts a painterly crisscross pattern on a grid – symbols of a building process – lashed beams and structures built by hand in the traditional way. This large painting could be seen as a metaphor for the scale of the rebuilding required in Samoa. Nevertheless this series of paintings as a whole, map out a positive process and journey to the recreation of the villages – a resolve to work together. This sentiment is also expressed in the painting Fa’aola– broadly translated to mean “to bring to life”². The message which Feu’u wishes to impart and emphasize here is one which will motivate each villager (and others) to move on and work to bring the villages back to life.

By re-evaluating and re-examining intrinsic values in Samoan Culture Fatu Feu’u often addresses vital issues concerning his people and their environment. Samoan culture has a strong spiritual link to the land and this comes from a history of planting, cultivating and harvesting by the lunar cycle. This process has an inextricable link to the land relied upon for survival. Subsequently there is an intrinsic culture of respect for conservation and the lifeline of resources. The painting Ia ola refers to “longevity and well wishes, to let live”, but is also a reminder that ignorance of conservation can result in serious implications for society. Despite catch-phrases emerging into contemporary social consciousness and lexicon (eg. “global warming”, “flash floods”, “rising sea levels”, “peak oil”, and “ozone depletion”) the awareness and connection to the consequences of constant exploitation remains limited. A solution to these mounting environmental issues appears to be based on a hope that modern technology will fix the problem. Ironically in many cases technology has accelerated the world towards terminal depletion of many natural resources including rainforests, wildlife and fishing grounds. Fatu’s work subtlety exposes these monumental issues.

In the painting Nuanua tumau (Residing Rainbow), even the powerful sentinels or warriors depicted protecting the village are unable to halt the recent Tsunami and flooding, natures backlash to an earthquake in the centre of the South Pacific. Depicted however in the lower part of the painting Nuanua tumau and in Nuanua folau (Sailing Rainbow), the rainbow imagery is a positive symbol of hope and action. While the totems seemed ineffectual they remain stoically fixed in their position. They have held firm – a symbol of hope and strength. The rainbow “sails into action” in Nuanua Folau – “the sailing rainbow”. Here the message is one of action – a motivating and positive sign for the people.³

Traditional allegories and legends encourage cultural values; these are narrated and repeated through generations. Often these narratives warn of environmental concerns, as well as social and moral issues. Feu’u has described his paintings as “va’aomanu” or “vessels of knowledge”(4). By re-inventing and employing these ancient symbols and stories he is advancing significant and important lessons from a culture that has learned them long ago. Feu’u in some way is echoing the salutatory words of Vernon Law when he said “experience is a hard teacher – she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards”(5).
(1) Fatu Feu’u in discussion with Warwick Henderson, Auckland, May 2010
(2) Ibid
(3) Fatu Feu’u in discussion with Warwick Henderson, Auckland May
(4) Ibid
(5) Vernon Law, USA (1930-) quote McFarland Baseball Quotation Dictionary, McFarland & Co, D. Nathan, 2000

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