The Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji, Hon. Josaia (Frank) Voreqe Bainimarama, visited LACMA a few months ago. His return from the UN Climate Change Conference COP24 in Paris allowed him a stopover in Los Angeles to officially inaugurate LACMA’s exhibition, Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific. During 2018, Bainimarama had served as the president of the previous United Nations meeting, COP23, and was instrumental in underlining the critical effects of climate change in the greater Pacific.
Dr. Katrina Igglesden, a visiting curator from the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, England and one of the original co-curators of the exhibition, worked with us to advise on official protocol for the Prime Minister’s visit and LACMA’s presentation of the exhibition. Dr. Igglesden is of Fijian heritage and also served as the Cultural Manager for the Fijian President's Secretariat in Bonn during the preceding UN COP23. She reviewed the texts and object orientation for cultural appropriateness. Dr. Steven Hooper, the primary organizer and curator of the exhibition, also contributed essential advice based on his many years of field research in Fiji and his knowledge of Fijian language and culture. Two key representatives of the Fiji Museum, a major lender to the exhibition—Board Chairman Kate Vusoniwailala, and Director of the Fiji Museum Sipiriano Nemani—also joined us for the opening events.
Master boat builders Joji Marau Misaele and Setareki Domonisere traveled from Fiji to add the final rigging, mast, and sail to the 26-foot drua constructed by them for the exhibition.
We also connected with Cindi Alvitre, professor at California State University Long Beach and a tribal representative of the Gabrieleno/Tongva tribal maritime community, who has consulted with LACMA on previous occasions. Joining her were noted representatives of the tribe including elder Viola Torres and other members of the local Indigenous community to welcome the Fijian dignitaries following traditional Tongva protocol and to pay respect to the culturally significant collections in the exhibition.
We had envisioned an outdoor ceremony, with brief speeches, official exchanges, and a performance, ideally on a sunny morning on the Smidt Welcome Plaza. While an unseasonably cold morning forced a move into the lobby of the Resnick Pavilion, the space provided a more intimate setting. LACMA Director Michael Govan welcomed the group and Prime Minister Bainimarama spoke briefly. Alvitre was accompanied by a Tongva delegation that included Virigina Carmelo, Lazaro Arvizu, Desiree Martinez, Linda Gonzales, Craig Torres, Miztla Aguilera, Viktoria Aguilera, Lorene Siquoc, Weshoyot Alvitre, and elder Viola Torres, who performed a traditional welcoming.
The PM was presented with a Pendleton Blanket, traditional shell jewelry, an exhibition catalogue, and a print by Tongva artist Weshoyot Alvitre.
Three Fijian dancers reciprocated with a performance in front of Mark Bradford’s large-scale painting 150 Portrait Tone and Alvitre was presented with a Fijian wood sculpture wrapped in traditional masi (barkcloth), a contemporary example of many of the 19th century masi textiles in the exhibition.
Blessed by the Prime Minister, the exhibition was then officially open to the public. Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific will be accessible again when LACMA reopens.
Images courtesy of Kevin Goff and Nancy Thomas.