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Reviewed by:
  • Red Wave: Space, Process, and Creativity at the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture
  • Sean Mallon
Red Wave: Space, Process, and Creativity at the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture, by Katherine Higgins. Suva, Fiji: IPS Publications, The University of the South Pacific, 2008. ISBN 978-982-02-0392-1; 104 pages, color illustrations, photographs. US$30.00.

In 1997, academic and visionary Epeli Hau'ofa established the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture. It is based on the campus of the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. The most prominent creative presence at the center is Red Wave. The title of this book "directly derived from the name of the artist group at the centre, the Red Wave Collective, which in turn comes from the Fijian biau kula or Tongan peau kula for tidal wave, literally red wave" (2). For more than a decade the artists of Red Wave have been creating art reflecting a particular stance toward space, process, and creativity in Oceania.

The author, Katherine Higgins, is a graduate of the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. This book emerges from her MA portfolio project and from time she spent as a visiting artist at the Oceania Centre. It captures some key moments and perspectives relating to art and cultural production in Fiji and Oceania.

The opening chapter, "A Space for Creativity," gives a short background on Hau'ofa and outlines the conceptual underpinnings of the Oceania Centre. The next chapter, "Oceanic Art," is also conceptual in tone and draws attention to the different histories and trajectories of contemporary art production in the Pacific region. In this brief treatment, Higgins writes about Red Wave emerging from environments and concerns different from the "Pacific contemporary art" that is linked mostly with Aotearoa and Papua New Guinea. She argues for more specificity in the way scholars write about and categorize Oceanic arts. The third chapter, "An Oceanic Arts Movement," outlines the history and development of the Oceania Centre and further explores its distinct creative objectives. Higgins highlights the expansion of the center's programs to include dance and musical composition, production, and performance. The fourth chapter, "Voices of Red Wave," explores the creative processes at work in Red Wave through the words and art of its members. The artists voice their views on several themes relating to culture, politics, spirituality, and identity. The next chapter, "A Growing Wave of Certainty," briefly assesses what the experiences of the Red Wave Collective and the Oceania Centre can offer other arts and cultural centers in the region. It argues that the Oceania Centre is a successful and transferable model and speculates on future developments.

The final section of the book, "Introducing the Artists," signals the future in a catalogue of profiles and images documenting the artists and their work at this point in time. This section is a valuable conclusion that is part history, part catalogue, and part marketing tool. It is well illustrated; includes artist portraits, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers; and will surely play a role in promoting Red Wave to a wider audience. In fact, the book as a whole is richly produced [End Page 221] with full-color plates and extended captions. The titles, dates, and measurements of works are well documented in a separate illustrations list.

Higgins writes a flowing narrative that is a pleasure to read. The use of artists' interviews echoes a focus on self-expression that the center itself promotes. The interview material is engaging and generally well edited. Unfortunately, there is one instance of double use of interview material (which leaps out in a text of this length) and some other unnecessary repetition in the essays. However, it is worth noting the energy required to create a publication of this type. Good quality interviews are no shortcut. It takes time to establish relationships with interviewees, and they are time consuming to process. Higgins has done well in this regard, and the quality of her rapport with interviewees is evident. She indicates her intention to "bring the artists front and centre, supported by scholarship but not overwritten by it" (5). She...