Fiji is a country that is probably on most of our bucket lists. With its beautiful beaches, crystal-clear waters, and fascinating culture, it’s not hard to see why. Thankfully, you can now get a taste of this island lifestyle at ‘Fiji: Art and Life in the Pacific’, the newest exhibit to enter the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich.
The largest of its kind, with over 270 works of art, the exhibit enables visitors to take a sneak peek at how life on the most famous island in the South Pacific came about, including all of its intriguing history. Items come from all walks of life; including photographs from personal collections, dresses purchased in Fijian flea-markets, and extravagant weaponry that is still used today. Some of my personal favourites include a serving bowl in the shape of a turtle, a ‘portable temple’, and of course, the many paintings that depict how visually beautiful Fiji is.
As well as immersing us in Fijian life today, the exhibit also takes you on a journey through their past. Islands in the South Pacific are largely disregarded when it comes to looking at the exploration history of the Southern Hemisphere. I was fascinated to discover that in fact, the first settlers of the island were most likely from the neighbouring country of Tonga. Later, of course, European explorers came and colonised Fiji, but the natives eventually established independence from the British Empire in 1970. Through the exhibit, you can see just how Fijian society was shaped and influenced by these different cultures. Newspapers from the time, which resemble popular British broadsheets, are displayed in the exhibit, alongside traditional spears that play a vital part in Fiji’s fishing commerce.
Whilst many of us still associate Fiji with this largely simple, traditional, island-life based society, the exhibit does also highlight how Fiji is being bought into the modern world. A dress made out of traditional materials, created by current fashion designers, is displayed at the end of the exhibit. It shows how the combination of the ‘old’ of the ‘new’ are being embraced to create a new, up to date image for Fiji. The dress was a feature piece for a Fijian fashion show recently, in an attempt to highlight the growing fashion community on the islands. The very fact that an exhibit of Fijian life and art is being displayed in an English city, is also a great example of how the small country is aiming to spread its fascinating way of life all over the modern world. The President of Fiji actually came to the Sainsbury Centre to open the exhibition, showing just how important promoting this new image is.
Overall, I would definitely recommend the exhibit, even if you don’t necessarily have any prior interest or knowledge in Fiji. I myself only really visited because of the stereotypical (yet justified!) serene beach images associated with Fiji, and thought it would be interesting to find out more about life in the South Pacific. It’s a rather large exhibition, and you can easily spend an afternoon wandering around the works of art, immersing yourself in this alternative, peaceful, way of life.