Meet Alifereti Malai, one of Fiji’s most exciting painters. A couple of weeks ago his painting “I taukei ni wai – The water source III”, an oil paint on canvas won the National Fine Art award. Today Alifereti is a well-known artist who has had many exhibitions in Fiji, and also in New Caledonia and New Zeeland but for many years his life looked very different. He is originally from the village of Burelevu in the Fiji Highlands. Only 5 years old he was sent to the island of Vanuabalavu in the Laugroup to be raised by his late maternal grandmother, in the midst of a masi (mulberry tree) plantation after his parents divorce.
-My grandmother was my first tutor she was a masi designer. I would sit next to her and watch her print stencils on masi, and at the same time I would be sketching, says Alifereti. His teacher in first grade school quickly discovered his talent, and asked him to draw pictures on the blackboard while she told the rest of the class a story.
-My work is inspired by experiences from my past, my daily life and future possibilities, says Alifereti who didn’t have a formal art training until 2007. As a teenager he went back to the main island, Viti Levu to continue school and got mixed up with the wrong crowd. In 1993 he was released on good behaviour after spending ten years in and out of prison.
– To keep my mind fit I would exercise, read, draw and pray. If I hadn’t done these things I would not have survived. It was in prison he decided who he wanted to be. He rebuilt himself and learnt his art: tattooing, painting, drawing, sketching and carving. It didn’t take long before the prison authorities and people from the American Embassy discovered his art. When he went back to prison between 1989 and 1991 his clients kept in touch and visited him there instead. “You need to have a clean heart to create beautiful art”. In the early years he would only draw traditional handicraft on masi and sell small pieces to tourists at hotels, and at art markets. He still makes 10 pieces every day, which are sold in galleries, but his main focus is on his oil paintings. My “first love” was realistic art. Now it is contemporary art after studying this form for two years at the University of South Pacific.
-I paint traditional art in a contemporary way, he says. He calls his paintings “The story from the inside of the house”, and there is always a message in his work. I like to create awareness through my work, and highlight issues like climate changes in Fiji. You will always find my totem, the millipede in my paintings, he continues. The millipede is sacred, and has a very strong relationship with the land in the Highlands where he is originally from.
-People don’t value art in Fiji, and that is the hardest challenge, most of my buyers are foreigners. Many of his paintings are selling for up to 3 500 Fijian dollars a piece.
-I want to take my art to another level, and for a pacific artist the best place to be is New Zeeland. In 2011 he spent four months in Auckland to learn more about contemporary art and getting to know the right people. He hopes to go back for an extended visit next year again. Alifereti has his studio in the middle of the family’s livingroom, and most days he starts painting around 5 am before the family awakes.
-My children are very artistic and I hope they will continue my work. I have taught my son, and my daughter that the story won’t end with me.
2012: National Fine Art Award
2009: Indigenous Art Award, Fiji Arts Council
2009: Masquerade Wearable Arts Awards
2008: Public Choice Award – Fiji Arts Exhibition
2007: Award of Excellence ANZ art completion
2006: 1st prize craft completion
1997: Fijian Arts Council Award
1992: Red Cross Needle Craft and Hobby Fair
If you want to get in contact with Alifereti Malai, you can send him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to get in contact with him by phone, please contact me. //Marianne
Please note that all art in the pictures belongs to Alifereti Malai.
© 2012 Marianne365days – Change Your Life One Day At The Time – All Rights Reserved