The Early Years
As a child Rusiate loved to draw and found it fascinating. He says: “At school I copied every diagram and was often asked by teachers to copy images for them onto the blackboard. In my spare time I loved to draw the fine detailing of insects, trees, leaves and found it easy to draw landscape.” His love of reading brought him into contact with European artists and he was particularly attracted to those who were themselves inspired by the strength of tribal art. It is not surprising that Picasso’s Cubism and vibrant palette, and Miro’s surreal linear explorations were of great interest to him. Like the tribal tradition on which he naturally draws, with its love of minimalist planes, bright colours, forceful expression and reference to the world of dream, these artists work confirmed for him a direction that was in fact part of his own artistic tradition.
“Picasso’s paintings jumped out of the art books I saw when I was in class five and I adore his work to this day” (so much so that Rusiate named his youngest son after the Spanish great artist).
Rusiate comments: “I admired Picasso’s colour combinations and the way he cut up the image… Miro’s work reminds me of what I like to do… create a world beyond the present.. with subtle things that may appear in dreams…” He says: “I like the idea of being able to create something that lives outside the present, where I can fly like Peter Pan… be free and do what I like.”
The period of living and working in Australia has been an eye opening experience for Rusiate. Australian artists of interest to him include David Larwill who he admires for the “expressive use of thick pigment and the geometric”. He also loves the monumental scale of Annette Bezor’s women. “They are just amazing, you can almost smell them. These powerful images of women with large breasts and naked bodies make me feel very small and vulnerable.”
Rusiate’s time in Australia allowed him to witness first hand the best of Aboriginal talent, “I have been very fortunate to live in the heart of Australia and know personally some of the great desert Aboriginal artists of our day including Dorothy Napangardi and Mitjili Napanangka Gibson.”
In particular, the work of Aboriginal artist Dorothy Napangardi, very contemporary despite its tribal inspiration, continued to fascinate him. He says: “She takes you away from traditional work using a flow of dotted lines that have a great human quality. They are wonderful because they are not precise and wander all over the picture.”
The Red Wave Collective and Rusiate Lali
Lingikoni Vaka’uta who researched and wrote a thesis on ‘Contemporary Visual Arts in Fiji’ was introduced to Rusiate Lali at the first art workshop held at the Oceania Centre (University of the South Pacific), by an Australian art teacher and educator, Ms. Geraldine in February 1997. A year later both were participants at the 1998 art workshop by New Zealand-Niue artist John Pule at OCAC in 1998. Rusiate was known at the time as Rusiate Rokotuiwai with the alias, Richard Bell. His earlier works at the beginning with the Red Wave Collective appear under these names. It was only when he married that Rusiate officially changed his name to ‘Rusiate Lali’ as reflected in his later works.
Rusiate comes from a family of traditional artists of weavers and potters from Rewa Province, Fiji. As one of the most successful contemporary artists, he is an inspiration to young upcoming artists from Fiji.
The Red Wave Collective
The Red Wave Collective86 was formed at the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture (OCAC), USP, Laucala campus and was officially registered in November 1998 in Fiji as a non-profit organisation. The founding director of the Center at the time, the late Professor Epeli Hau’ofa was its mentor.
The name ‘Red Wave’ was the title given by Professor Hau’ofa to the first group exhibition featuring new artists who had attended a three-week art workshop conducted by NZ-Niue artist, John Pule, at the Centre in February 1998. The workshop has been advertised in the local newspaper and interested artists submitted expressions of interest and went through an interview process. Those selected to be in the workshop included Premila Devi, Sangeeta Singh, Dulcie Stewart, Sanjeshni Reddy, Delia Xie, Alma Wright, Josua Toganivalu, Meli Laddpeter, Richard Bell (now known as Rusiate Lali), Lingikoni Vaka’uta and two others who are no longer practicing artists. At the end of this workshop the first exhibition titled ‘Red Wave I’ was held.
The Oceania Centre did not have a proper enclosed art gallery at the time, so the Red Wave art exhibitions were held at OCAC open verandas on display boards. For security reasons, the artists took shifts in looking after the exhibition at night (May 1999).
Some of the artists from that original group remained at the Centre producing and selling their works. Towards the end of 1998, Professor Hau’ofa proposed the idea of forming a registered art group and naming it Red Wave Collective. By the time the group was officially registered, there had already been four exhibitions - Red Wave I to IV. Eight artists from the original group were the founding members of the Red Wave Collective - seven were Fiji citizens and one a Fiji Resident. They included Premila Devi, Sangeeta Singh, Dulcie Stewart, Alma Wright, Josua Toganivalu, Meli Laddpeter, Lingikoni Vaka’uta and Richard Bell. These artists are listed in the Red Wave Collective’s constitution as the founding members of the Collective.
The Red Wave Collective had its first international exhibition in 2000 at the James Harvey Gallery, Sydney, Australia. From the 2000s, Red Wave artists have been visible in the Fiji art scene winning local exhibition art prizes and international art awards. Rusiate Lali was the first from Red Wave to win art prizes at local exhibitions hosted by Alliance Francaise and Fiji Arts Club and to represent Fiji to the ‘Pacific Arts Festival’ in Noumea New Caledonia in 2000.
Refer to Higgins (2008) and Hereniko, V.& Stevenson, K. (2012) for more details. It is also important to note that the researcher is a founding member of the Red Wave Collective and writing this section from institutional experience and memories.
The Oceania Centre did not have a proper enclosed art gallery at the time, so the Red Wave art exhibitions were held at OCAC open verandas on display boards. For security reasons, the artists took shifts in looking after the exhibition at night.
Extract from Vaka’uta LEV Final Full Thesis 2014.pdf by Lingikoni Vaka’uta
01 January 2018 - 31 December 2019
We are excited to be planning our series of online exhibitions over the next 12 months… after the thought provoking “Climate Change in The Pacific” by Fiji’s leading multi-media artist Rusiate Lali, other exhibitions in the pipeline cover a varied range of topics that include some of our key…
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