Powerful show has sad message

Tuesday January 23, 2018 Written by Published in Art
Fe’ena Syme-Buchanan introduces her exhibition to a packed audience at the Cook Islands National Museum. 18012105 Fe’ena Syme-Buchanan introduces her exhibition to a packed audience at the Cook Islands National Museum. 18012105

Mangaia is one of the most beautiful islands in the Pacific, but its population is declining. This is the strong message behind Fe’ena Syme-Buchanan’s photographic exhibition at the Cook Islands National Museum which opened on Friday.


“It’s not pretty,” said Fe’ena’s mother, Florence Syme Buchanan, in a moving speech. “The issues of depopulation affect us all.”

Syme Buchanan, who accompanied her daughter on her visit to the island last year, said it was the first time she had been to Mangaia in six years and she was amazed at the visible change in the population. She talked about what depopulation means to the community.

“It means families being torn apart, loneliness, homes boarded up, closed schools, untended gardens.”

Looking through a dusty window of an empty home was heart-breaking, and she wondered if the classrooms would ever hear singing again, if the homes would ever feel love again, she added.

Fe’ena brought out the stark and powerful message of a community losing its people, said Syme Buchanan, in the best way she knew how and she embraced it and captured its poignancy.  “I think the images will stay with you for a long time.”

She said art is about inspiring an emotional response and this exhibition had achieved that.

Fe’ena said the inspiration for her work came from a conversation between her and her mother. The photos were her final project before completing a Bachelor of Creative Enterprise at Unitec in Auckland. She said she could have chosen to take stunning photos, but instead chose a very real problem facing the Cook Islands, resulting in a selection of stunning photos anyway. Pastor Tevai Matapo’s theme in his opening speech was the unique talents we are all given by God.

He said talent is a gift. “You can’t brag about it because you didn’t earn it, you didn’t work for it, it’s simply a gift.”

He said we are all accountable to use our gifts wisely and, “this is what our girl is doing.”

Ministry of cultural development secretary Mr Anthony Turua welcomed guests to the exhibition including officials and visitors from Mangaia.

He said Fe’ena’s exhibition would make a positive contribution toward the culture of the island.

The exhibition will be on show at the Cook Islands National Museum until February 28.

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