Posted inStory / Fiji

Fiji artist channels climate change in new exhibit

PENI Fong delights in the unpredictability of his metal sculptures.

It’s the art of making people ask questions about his work that he revels in.

The Vanuabalavu native, who is of mixed Chinese heritage, said he combined the use of metal, wood and various materials to make sculptures that simply boggled the mind and of course left art lovers scratching their heads and trying to make heads or tails about the art piece

“I just wanted to put in a sculpture that raised questions and wonder what the hell it was,” he said with a chuckle.

“I didn’t want to put something there that people would look at and just instantly know what it was. That would be too easy.”

Peni was one of the artists whose artwork is currently on show at the Fiji National Fine Arts Exhibition, which is open to the public at the Chinese Cultural Centre until December 10 in Suva.

This year he won the National Sculptor Award at the exhibition for the sixth time.

“The theme for this year was climate change. In terms of challenging my abilities, I wanted to do things which people don’t usually do. Climate change is unpredictable and I wanted to make an artwork that reflected it. I called it (sculpture) the ‘Fishing Boat’. I could have said ‘figurehead gone fishing’ but I called it a simple ‘fishing boat’ — a simple fishing boat in bad weather and affected by climate change. Such a scene would not do well out at sea,” described the now curator of the University of the South Pacific’s Art Gallery.

The winning piece is made in the shape of a fish but could fool an unsuspecting person to think it was a cross between a fish and a boat.

It’s made from a mix of wood, metal, steel and brass. One look at his work one could tell Fong’s knack for putting together ambitious expressive works using the limited resources around him.

Originally trained in welding at the National Training and Productivity Centre and the College of Engineering, Science and Technology of the Fiji National University, Peni said it was a workshop for “art welding” in 1997 that got him hooked to sculpting.

An international artist Georgina Beier was holding the workshop. Beier set 40 professional welders a challenge: with a piece of chalk and some floor space, they had to design something that God had never created.

Peni came up with a design of a stingray based on the fan on the Fijian two-cent coin. Beier liked the idea, and the sculpture was built by a team of welders. He said he never looked back.

His sculptures now grace national galleries and other prominent collections, including in American Samoa, Australia, Fiji, the Dominican Republic, Palau and Papua New Guinea.

He has represented Fiji in exhibitions and festivals, and completed international commissions.

“The interest from young people is there for sculpturing but what I think we lack is the facilities and the equipment because to do welding our equipment is quite expensive. You have to have money to do it.

“And I’m not talking about money for painting materials, you have to buy cylinders of oxygen gas and that runs into the hundreds of dollars and the ordinary artists don’t usually have that kind of money to throw around. I’m quite fortunate in that I’m supported by USP,” he said.

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