During the lock down in Lautoka, Fiji; an artistic Lady resolved to draw as her way of staying focused. Each day her friends and followers got spoilt to a piece of art. And the art was simply superb. We feasted our eyes on mother-in-law tongues wagging, a parrot finch feeding and even the neighbours’ roosters that most probably ended up in their pot during the lock down. The artist was Susie Elliott and I had the privilege of meeting her just a few days before the lock down.
While she and I are related through marriage, we had never met so my mother told me to look out for an elegant lady. You will not miss her she said as I hurried out of her house, shaking my head in bewilderment at her so Fijian attempt at describing anything.
Born to Dr Hubert and Sainimili Elliott in Fiji, Su as she prefers to be called, attended St Anne’s Primary school and St Joseph’s Secondary School in Suva before moving to Wellington, New Zealand in the 1980’s. She studied at UCOL Quay Art School in Wanganui where she specialised in print making and moved around quite a lot with her family. These were the facts I knew about Su.
I could have written a miniseries on her with what I had but I wasn’t looking for the facts or the technicalities. I was looking for the heart of her art and there I found it, as my mother promised, standing out from the crowd. Conversing with Su was like looking into the soul of a more creative and articulate twin.
It is clear that a lot of thought goes into her work and she confirms this saying she reads avidly and eclectically, often drawing on The Book of Psalms finding assurance in the poetic challenges and triumphs the psalmist faces. She loves to research as well. After all, she was a librarian in Wellington and she draws on this background to prod and pry for information to add basis to her work. Her meticulous approach is testament to her belief that the quality of work we produce defines who we are.
...You are defined by your work and that takes guts
We talked at length about her work and in particular an art exhibition she did – The Tabua collection, where she mapped out the journey of our Tabua. From birth to death, The Tabua follows the life of every Fijian and marks out our milestones better than any album can. This is such an interesting point. Some Fijian uncles and aunts have the uncanny ability to recall the precise number and size of Tabua of each significant occasion. This exhibition made such an impact that most of her art pieces were sold out.
She moved back to Fiji in 2017 after three decades living in Wellington to start her art practice, Inkbone Fine Arts, based out of Lautoka . Her prints collection can also be found at Essence Tourist Lounge in Nadi. In Fiji, she has independence, routine and a backyard of Fijian subjects to fire her creative juices. She’s never ran out of inspiration though, for example in Manila she studied the Chinese brush technique and in New Zealand she integrated the use of curry powder in her Art to remind her of home. Right now she is currently working on her Love the Land Series and how Fiji’s landscape has changed over the years.
This woman’s sense of identity and affinity to the land is captivating. As she talked I blurted out, ‘Su, Na Vanua’. Yes she agreed! Our Fijian knowing clicked in. Na Vanua: its more than the soil, more than boundary lines or vegetation types.
It is identity, politicised weapons of trade and ownership. Its belonging, custodianship and spirituality; and where better to work on her landscape series than in our beloved homeland.
Her art, in her own words ‘is not pretty’. It is engaging and often conceptual and it’s clear that her experience of unsettling and resettling, of pushing through and finding roots has added an extra dimension to the quality of her work.
As our world adjusts to living in lock down; artists, musicians, poets and writers have stepped up to the mantel and have provided welcome relief in these trying times. Matisse said that it takes courage to engage creativity and this is true for artists like Su who have to be assertive about accessing platforms where they can showcase their work. What Su did during the lockdown allowed a lot of us to peek into her world and we liked what we saw.
Big name artists need to use their power to create spaces for other artists and lobby for greater representation because as Fiji’s writer, Mary Rokonadravu, in an open letter to Fijian creative artists and advocates said,
‘… We can no longer afford to just ask questions; crack jokes and share laugh emojis on social media. Our future, and the future of every child or youth burning with embers of creativity, the kind we understand in each other, is at stake‘.
To us users of art, lets purchase their work at the asking price, acknowledge their talent by hyping them up to our networks and offer them safe spaces on our platforms whether it be digital or physical. This is because doing what they do, in a country where they get little institutional support and much less governmental funding is like staging a horse race at Sukuna Park. So much potential, such little space.
The conversation with the elegant lady Su revealed a gutsy streak, but of course she’d have to be. She wasn’t painting violets in a fully funded country, she is pushing the envelope in a country where the creative sector hasn’t been given wings to fly. However after looking at the work she creates, something tells me that she is just going to be fine.
For more information into her art and order bespoke pieces you may contact Su Elliott at:
PO Box 7799
Ph: 8660897 (679)
Or you can view her Prints collection at Essence Tourist Lounge in Nadi (Lot 1 Nasau Rd, Back Road)