28.05.2018 - By Stephen Soole in Vanuatu
Vanuatu abounds with natural beauty and rich culture; it’s a country where western and Polynesian beliefs, customs and traditions intersect to produce a colorful and often unique experience. It’s a destination the majority of visitors travel to for a short break to relax and immerse themselves in the warm weather and waters, of which this island nation has an oversupply. It is also known as one of the happiest countries in the world despite the social and developmental challenges it faces.
But if you’re an arts buff like me, who just loves hunting out artists, galleries and art in general then you’ll know that it’s not known as a place to come to immerse yourself in the art scene. It doesn’t have the many and fine art galleries that other destinations can boast, or the history of the grand masters that other countries have. However, as I have discovered the longer I’m here, what it does have is a thriving arts community and amazing craftspeople doing very creative work. Yes, art is alive and well in Vanuatu. Beautiful pieces lovingly created from and with very little, to produce amazing results. Each often telling a story in some way of a time and a place in the history, culture and lives of the people of Vanuatu.
Art as we all know is very subjective: everyone has an opinion on it. That’s what art should do, create discussion and get people thinking, but so often it’s also overlooked, or not really thought of as art.
Yet to see the skillful weaving in the finely woven mats and bags, how can we not say it’s art and an art itself in its creation? The impressively tall carved Tam Tams, an immediate connection to the whanau whanui (Wider family) scattered across the Pacific Ocean, yet uniquely different from each other. Lovingly created not only for a specific function and purpose but to remind us of Vanuatu’s unique tradition, culture and arts.
Art can tell us a lot about a place, a society, and its values. Public art is even more valuable as an opportunity to showcase what is uniquely theirs, and to tell local history and its future through art, all there for the wider audience to enjoy and appreciate and an individual like myself to wonder at.
Unexpectedly, the more I explore the more I find and enjoy: on street corners, on walls of buildings, inside cafés, banks, hotels and resorts, and at the markets, there for all to see and enjoy, if we choose to view them as pieces of art and acknowledge them as such. So next time you are in Vila, take the time to hunt out these gems, they are food for thought and the soul, and something Vanuatu should be proud of.