Harieta Vilsoni

Map of Life—My journey from Ahau, Rotuma to Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

by Harieta Janet Vilsoni (2 January 2012)

Last October, 2011, I was privileged to be a participant in the Map of Life Oceanian Art Workshop which was sponsored by the Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific. This Workshop was conducted by renowned Pacific artist, writer and poet John Pule. Pule, New Zealand based, hails from Niue and is no stranger to Rotuma. He is married to Sophia Takela-Smith from Pepjei; when he first visited Rotuma in '97, I was in class two.

Pule was my mentor for the three weeks I painted my contemporary art piece, titled Hanua, on canvas. Pule challenged our merry bunch of participants to reflect on our roots, upbringing and journeys in life and to depict these experiences in colour. Like our Polynesian forefathers who once criss-crossed the vast Pacific Ocean in their outriggers and used charts made of sticks and shells to mark islands, routes and currents, we were challenged to produce a map of life.

With my painting Hanua

At the workshop I painted alongside multi-talented artists like Josaia McNamara, Irami Buli and William Bakalevu—local artists who have exhibited their creations in Fiji and at occasions like the Pacific Arts Festival. It was a joy to have another Rotuman, Victoria Pau'u, amongst this artistic crew.

Pule challenged us to be poetic and tutored us how to spring forth from a work of poetry. Each morning we had to recite our original poems and express our thoughts as to why we had written them the way we did. The in-depth discussions got us out of our comfort zones and made us focus on our individual journeys through life.

With artist John Pule, and my fellow participants

I reflected on my wonderful childhood at Ahau Government Station, the sadness of leaving Rotuma, chirpy student life at Yat Sen, staying at Marist Brothers' High School and being part of the Red Fire experience, the shift to the Teachers College campus in Nasinu, being uprooted again and the long flight to Seoul and then Dubai and Al Ain, the readjustment to an international school and making new friends, witnessing the world economic recession in '08 and how it affected an expatriate community, the sacrifices made by my parents to educate us, sharing my teenage highs and lows with them and my shuttling to and fro from the glitter of Dubai to tranquil USP.

During the three weeks of the workshop I "watched" a slow-motion replay of my young life vividly trickle by. The sessions were reflective, nostalgic, emotional and made us aware of our roots and family and be appreciative of who we are. The open-forums boosted my confidence and empowered me to stand in front of a crowd and express myself.

In my Hanua painting, which was exhibited at the Gallery of Oceanian Art on 2 November 2011, I had incorporated elements of Polynesian motifs with Arabic symbols. The fusion represents a pictorial trace of my own journey, my siblings, my very supportive parents and our humble home in the suburb of Al Jimi in the oasis city of Al Ain in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The colours represent the beautiful sunset I see from Ahau – the sun dipping between Uea and Split Island—and, the hues of the desert sand dunes. I now hail from two very different destinations the tropics with its rainy season and the desert where it rains once in the blue moon—different time zones, different dress codes, different languages and different cultures. I have tried my utmost to capture these experiences in Hanua.

In Al Ain wiith my mother, Vika, and my paintings inspired by Paul Gauguin

I am still a beginner in art. My introduction to the world of art was basic; I had done art and craft at Malha'a Primary School (1996-2000) and had even woven a mini-size mat. That was basically the sum total of my artistic life as a primary school student. However, in my senior year of high school at AAESS in Al Ain, I took Art as a subject. I needed a fourth subject to complete my Cambridge AS Level Certificate so I chose art thinking that it would be an easy course. I was wrong! Art is much more than just painting colorful sketches. I had to research famous artists and their work, produce sketches for my portfolio, exhibit paintings and study for exams. My practical exam took two days. Art is an intensive subject and draws on one's: emotions, moods, experiences and perspectives—yes, the beauty of Rotuma and the history and wonders of the Middle East, particularly the United Arab Emirates, have shaped my artistic horizons .

For my AS-Level certificate, I studied Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin's works and grew fond of Gauguin's artistic expressions of Tahiti and its beautiful women. His work has influenced my fondness for abstracts, expressionisms and depictions of Polynesia. Art has become both a passion and a stress-reliever.

My participation at the workshop was made possible through the guidance of Professor Vilsoni Herenikonoa‘ia ma shukran! I would like to encourage our Rotuman youngsters to continue to express themselves through the various forms of art, music, and sports and to enhance their creativity! Noh alalum 'e fau fo'ou te!

Victoria Pau‘u and Me
With Ruby Wilson, Sumasafu Fonmoa and Lucien Tominiko