By Elizabeth Kolivuso and Samantha Magick
Suva painter Jane Ricketts’ Memories exhibition at the Oceania Art Centre is a window into Fiji’s history and history-makers, iTaukei and Indo-Fijian culture, cityscapes and intimate depictions of her family.
Ricketts’ elegant use of watercolours, oil paints and paper collage bring her subjects, and their stories, to vivid life. The paintings on display are largely drawn from private collections, a big task that involved shipping work from as far as Scandinavia.
For this reason, Ricketts says it is a once in a lifetime exhibition.
“I think it’s the fact that the paintings are owned by different people,” she says. “Some of them live in countries like my daughter in Norway and my brother in New Zealand. It’s not easy to get the works together so it’s not going to happen again.”
The humble retiree says her painting was initially borne from pain and frustration following the 1987 coup.
One of the most moving and powerful paintings in the exhibition depicts the funeral of Dr Timoci Bavadra, who was deposed in that coup. The painting captures the sense of quiet grief of the many people in attendance, and the deep Fijian traditions of the occasion.
Equally powerful are a number of paintings and collages made after the 2000 coup, including portraits of coup perpetrator, George Speight, and another of Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, who was one of the leaders of the ‘Blue Ribbon Vigils’, prayers held in support of MPs who had been held captive at the former Parliamentary complex for 56 days. Other paintings in this series depict the “desecration” of the parliamentary complex by the many people who camped there during the hostage period, and burnt-out vehicles abandoned in the riots that occurred in the early days of the coup.
Ricketts was a teacher at Suva Grammar School and the University of the South Pacific, and was never a full-time painter, although she did take lessons from locally based artists. She also spent many years as a voluntary arts teacher for the Fiji Corrections Services, developing a connection with the inmates she taught.
“I enjoyed their company,” says Ricketts. “I think they blossomed because they had this talent that hadn’t been recognised before.”
She believes creativity has been undervalued in our education system, and that when an artist’s creativity is developed, a sense of positivity and healing can result.
The Director of the Oceania Centre, Larry Thomas, says in staging the exhibition, he wanted to recognise a female artist who has chronicled some of Fiji’s most important historical moments.
“Jane Ricketts in my view is an important artist in Fiji. We have many young artists, contemporary artists. We don’t have a lot of artists like Jane whose focus is on realism.”
He continues: “The other part is paying tribute to someone who has been painting for the last 30 years, [who’s] very unassuming but also recording, particularly post 1987, and into 2000, looking at that aspect of Fiji’s history, because it affected her very deeply. She wanted to record it through her paintings. And we don’t have any artists who are doing that.”
Jane Ricketts’ exhibition, Memories, has been extended for a further two weeks at the Oceania Art Centre at the University of the South Pacific. You can see it until October 20.