Photograph by Niki Kauatonga, exhibited as part of Step Folem Step exhibition, Fondation Suzanne Bastien Gallery, Port Vila, Vanuatu, September 2020
2020 was an unexpectedly challenging year, where lots of things we had planned didn’t happen. However, because of the energy and creativity of the curators and participants in the Nu Yam Vanuatu Artists Fellowship project one thing that DID happen was the opening of an exhibition called Step Folem Step in Port Vila Vanuatu, showcasing works made by the Artist Fellows in 2019 and 2020.
Co-curator, and Fondation Suzanne Bastien co-Director Lina Ariki was instrumental in getting the exhibition together at a time when Vanuatu’s borders were closed. “In what has been a difficult year we are excited to announce the opening of the Step Folem Step exhibition of new contemporary artworks at Fondation Suzanne Bastien Gallery on September 9th 2020” said Lina, “the art works explore the impacts of climate change in Vanuatu, the strengths of kastom knowledge and ‘remix’. The works include painting, installations, photography, music, carving, performance, and more”.
Artist and co-curator Marcel Melto described the process of creating the works for the exhibition, “a group of emerging and established ni-Vanuatu artists were brought together to take part in an Artist Fellowship program set up by the Australian National University and hosted by the Fondation Suzanne Bastien. Some of the artists were supported by the Vanuatu Cultural Centre to attend the Vanuatu National Arts Festival on Malekula in August 2019. This year we were supposed to have a series of workshop with artists, researchers and curators, but COVID19 meant the ANU researchers couldn’t travel so we have been meeting virtually on zoom, facebook and in video workshops.”
It was an experiment in co-creativity keeping this project going in the face of covid safety needs and border closures. Our workshops went from this…
Marcel explained, “making the works for exhibition has been a process of exploration for all of us. Lots of the artists have travelled back to their own villages to conduct research within their families about kastom knowledge, ecological knowledge and climate change, and this has inspired the works in the exhibition. We have drawn on knowledge from kastom, family and our different creative practices, walking in the footsteps of others who have come before, but in our own way: ‘Step Folem Step’.”
The exhibition ran from September 9th to October 10th 2020, at the Fondation Suzanne Bastien Gallery on Pango road in Port Vila. The exhibition opening night included live performances by a number of the artists.
The Nu Yam Vanuatu Artists Fellowships have been funded through Margaret Jolly and Siobhan McDonnell’s Australian National University ARC research grant exploring climate change and gender in the Pacific and Maya Haviland’s research looking at dynamics of remix of traditional knowledge through practices of contemporary art, funded by an Australian National University Translational Fellowship. The Fellowships and exhibition have also been supported by the Fondation Suzanne Bastien, the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, with media support by Further Arts. Keep a look out for films about the artists expected to be released in 2021. You can read more about the exhibition and the research behind it here.