Fijian-Australian artist Torika Bolatagici shares her final blog post looking back at her Fresh Milk residency which took place during the month of June. The final week was full of activity, ranging from the public event FRESH MILK XIX, a presentation to delegates in a UNESCO workshop and continuing to meet with artists and members of the creative community, while still finding time to work on her photographic series The Camouflage Act developed in Barbados. Read more from Torika below:
Week 4 began with mine and Anisah’s public presentation on the evening of Monday 27 June. I prepared a presentation to introduce the Barbadian audience to the arts practices of Australian-based artists of the Fijian, Papua New Guinean and Autonomous Region of Bougainville diaspora. My presentation was titled ‘Seeing the Black Pacific’ and focused on drawing out particular themes that emerge from Australian-based artists of Melanesian and Indian-Fijian ancestry. Specifically, Cultural Heritage, Revival and Redress; Julia Mage’au Gray (Papua New Guinea); Lisa Hilli (Papua New Guinea); Dulcie Stewart (Fiji). Performing Contemporary Oceanic Identities: Salote Tawale (Fiji); Eric Bridgeman (Papua New Guinea). Positioning the (Geo)political Pacific: Taloi Havini (Autonomous Region of Bougainville); Mohini Chandra (Fiji); Torika Bolatagici (Fiji). It’s a huge task to condense the work of such diverse artists with significant bodies of work into such a short amount of time, but I hope that those who were able to attend will be able to follow-up on individual artists.
It was a pleasure to chat about Anisah’s work in more depth, in relation to the concepts, motivations and processes behind her previous work, as well as the way she has been developing these ideas further through the residency. Working alongside Anisah has been one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of my residency and I hope that our paths will cross again in the future.
On the Tuesday of week 4, I led the final session of Anisah’s Quid Pro Quo exchange session, in which I covered some basics about web content and layout for artists. We looked at some fundamentals of information architecture and compared and reviewed some of the various platforms available, before taking a look at the backend of a Squarespace site.
On Wednesday 29 June, we were lucky enough to participate in Katherine Kennedy’s presentation to a group of Caribbean delegates attending a UNESCO workshop that was taking place in Barbados that week. While I was aware of some of the work that the Fresh Milk organisation does, I was amazed at the multiple levels that they are involved in building and supporting the arts and culture industry in Barbados. It was truly amazing to see the grassroots through to international reach of the organisation and the delegates were visibly in awe of the breadth of work being achieved. There were audible gasps and ‘wows’ in the audience. It was an honour to be invited to speak about my residency experience as a part of Katherine’s presentation.
My two final days on the island were packed with multiple (and overlapping) appointments as I hopped from parish to parish trying to squeeze everything in, including photographing friends for my series The Camouflage Act. I was really glad to receive an email from Barbados-based attorney Lalu Hanuman, who wanted to pass on a copy of his publication Reality Check about “the mendacity of those in power in the days of European Colonialism – who propagated cannibal myths (and similar superiority notions), the better to facilitate their plundering activities.” (Hanuman, 2005). Not only was I grateful to Lalu for reaching out and gifting a copy of his book, but I was also pleased to learn about his work as an environmentalist and with the Barbados Marine Trust. I regret not being able to meet Lalu in-person, but was thrilled to learn that on the day he met with my husband to give him the book, he was in court and winning the case against the government’s proposal to introduce fingerprinting at all ports of entry, including for Barbadian nationals entering and leaving the country (more information in the online newspaper Barbados Today here.)
Another highlight of my final week, was meeting Russell Watson and visiting his studio to learn more about his practice. Russell really helped me to understand more about Barbadian history, culture, politics, topography and marine life. I was really struck by his photographic series Phylum, featuring disembodied figures framed by layers of luminous coral that reminded me of Byzantine mosaics.
After a final photoshoot with Sheena Weekes at Fresh Milk on my last day, I took one final drive up to Gallery NuEdge to take a sneak peek at the installation of Quaternary, curated by Natalie McGuire, featuring the work of Sheena Rose, Versia Harris, Llanor Alleyne and Katherine Kennedy. It was wonderful to finally meet Sheena Rose (whose work I have been following for some time) and take a walk through the gallery with each of the artists. The gallery is lovely and the works looked beautiful in the space; ranging from sculpture to digital print, and mixed-media assemblage. An exquisite show!
As we drove back from Holetown to Worthing in the rain with the windows open, the smell of roti filling the mini van and the sound of Skip Marley on the radio, my heart was sad to be leaving, but full of gratitude for all the learning, experiences and friendships formed. Each day as I entered the dairy I passed a sign that read ‘Manipura’ – the solar plexus, the centre of vitality. Symbolised by a downward pointing triangle indicating “the spreading of energy, growth and development.”
Thank you Fresh Milk for providing the space for growth, renewal of energy and development.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.