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Opening of the Christmas Vakaviti Art Exhibition Yellow Ribbon Project 2019

December 5, 2019       Tagimoucia Art Gallery

Honourable Cabinet Ministers;
Your Excellencies, Heads of Missions – High Commissioners, Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Permanent Secretaries;
Commissioner of Fiji Corrections Service – Commander Francis Kean;
Acting Commander of Republic of Fiji Military Forces - Brigadier General Mohammed
Aziz ;
Deputy Commissioner of Fiji Police Force – SSP Rusiate Tudravu;
Representatives from the Public and Private Sectors;
Representatives of Faith-Based Organizations;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Ni sa bula vinaka, Namaste, Asalaam Alaykum, Noa’ia ‘E mauri, and a very good evening to you all.

I am indeed honoured and delighted to be here to officiate at the opening of the Christmas Vakaviti Art Exhibition, a Yellow Ribbon Project, 2019.

This year, the Fiji Corrections Service (FCS) has come out with a “Christmas Vakaviti” Art Exhibition to celebrate the exceptional works of art produced by inmates at the Tagimoucia Gallery.

For the first time ever, a Fashion Show also featuring clothing designs by female inmates will also be included with the Art Exhibition as part of the “Yellow Ribbon Initiative Project” which was established in 2008.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been reliably informed that Fiji is the second country to the State of Israel this year in organising such an Arts Exhibition and Fashion Show which features and displays works produced by the women inmates from their Corrections Centers.

Two years ago, I was invited to launch a similar Exhibition in this Tagimoucia Arts Gallery and am so glad and thankful to be doing the honours again tonight.

Background of the Tagimoucia Gallery
Ladies and gentlemen, as most of the Staff here know, the Art Gallery which is the first of its kind for the Fiji Corrections Service in the history of Fiji, was launched in 2008 under the Government’s Yellow Ribbon Rehabilitation Programme.

It was a commendable strategy and major paradigm shift from punitive to that of a Rehabilitation approach in the manner in which we as a Society and Nation should treat former inmates, accept and interact with them as responsible and productive citizens upon their release.

The Tagimoucia Gallery was an initiative organised and implemented by the former Commissioner of the Corrections Service, Major General (Ret’d) Ioane Naivalurua in October 2008 in his effort to recognize, develop and expose the talents and artistic potential of inmates within the Corrections Institution.

The initiative provides an opportunity for inmates to further develop and improve their skills and gain an income generating capacity while in custody, that of a life-changing capability which should assist them upon their release and hopefully, improve their assimilation back into society and become productive and prosperous Fijians.

Rehabilitation Programmes
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my humble opinion that the nurture and further development of these inmates’ talents and potential is in itself an important aspect of their Rehabilitation Programme.

I am reliably informed that to qualify for this Rehabilitation Programme, the inmates will have to meet certain criteria for acceptance, participation and achievement at the preliminary and initial stages. Some of these potential Artists entered the Corrections Centres without any skills whatsoever about art work.

However, through the years, they have acquired the basic artistic knowledge and skills enabling them to produce meaningful and epic pieces of art work which depict and portrays their life stories, struggles, hope and aspirations for a better tomorrow.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am certain that if you critically scrutinise some of the art works on display – you can immediately detect and recognise that there is a deeper meaning to their work – there is definitely a Story to tell - very often as I have noticed, a sad story of Hardship, Struggle, Rejection, but in the end, Hope, Forgiveness and Acceptance.

Some personnel on the other hand were admitted into the Correction Centres with basic artistic skills in creating fine work of art, but lack discipline, focus and commitment.  This preliminary Rehabilitation Programme is therefore designed to help inmates to inculcate in them self-discipline, commitment and a sense of pride and achievement. It provides them with the ideal and unique opportunity to Reflect and I believe in all cases, the chance to fully express themselves in art form.

Ladies and gentlemen, I also believe that the Programme also creates and imbues in inmates a sense of Purpose, and Success which inevitably develop their Confidence and Hope – it is all about character building and prospects for a better future for them individually and collectively for our beloved nation as a compassionate and caring society of One People. These are important and vital characteristics which should be most helpful in their assimilation back into society upon release.

With the praise and acceptance of their art work by us, would be in my opinion ladies and gentlemen, a much welcomed boost to their morale, pride and sense of Belonging – an important step and milestone in the discarding and shedding of the stigma of being an inmate. I strongly believe that this development in itself is a major step towards the success of the Yellow Ribbon Initiative which the Corrections Service aims at achieving in our National effort in Rehabilitation and Reconciliation.

I further understand that under this Rehabilitation programme, sixty per cent of the proceeds collected from the paintings and art works are given to the artists and the rest are utilised for the purchase of materials for their use.

Yellow Ribbon Art Exhibition
Ladies and gentlemen, as your President and Head of State, I also advocate for Gender Equality and the Empowering of Women and Girls and am so glad to learn that Tonight’s Art Exhibition will also include the display of Clothes/Garments which are designed and sewn by the Female inmates.  

Again this is another ideal opportunity for them to showcase their talents which in some cases would have been developed at home, but more recently within the confines of the Corrections Service Institution in which they are also taught the necessary skills in designing and sewing various garments/uniforms for fellow inmates and members of corporate and public entities. 

As I mentioned earlier, Fiji is the second country in the world to stage a Fashion Show of this nature where the Designers are female inmates of the Women’s Corrections Service and in this regard, please allow me to acknowledge, commend and thank some of our fellow Fijians who had been instrumental in this major development in the promotion of the Yellow Ribbon Rehabilitation programme.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are kind-hearted, hardworking and very caring individuals who had kindly offered their invaluable time and expertise to assist the female members of the Fiji Corrections Service develop their talents and skills in designing and the production of fashionable garments which could provide them with an alternate source of income upon being released from these Corrections Institutions. 

I contend that when the topic and issue of Fashion is discussed within Fiji’s social circles, the name of Ms. Ellen Whippy-Knight – automatically comes to mind because she can be considered a pioneer of the Fashion Industry in Fiji and is the founder and now the Managing Director of Fiji Fashion Week in the present time.

She is someone who had persevered in promoting the Fashion Industry by creating an enabling platform for our local designers to improve their skills and learn more about showcasing their very creative Fijian brand designs, thus fulfilling their personal aspirations and dreams.

Ladies and gentlemen, also present in tonight’s Exhibition is Ms. Amanda Harman - the Director of Upskill Fiji, who has been most helpful and involved in training some of these talented female inmates in Design work and Sewing.
Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Felisha Hazleman Tuiloma - a name that is synonymous with corporate marketing, sponsorship and the communications industry in Fiji, is another quiet achiever in her work behind the scenes in organising tonight’s events in the lives of these talented inmates who, hopefully will become much reformed and productive citizens of our beloved Fiji when they are finally released from the confines of the Corrections Service facilities.  

To Ms. Ellen Whippy-Knight, Ms. Amanda Harman and Ms. Felisha Hazelman Tuiloma and other hardworkers and caring personnel behind the scene, – a very big Vinaka vakalevu and Thank you from us all.

Ladies and gentlemen, last but not the least, please allow me to pay a special tribute to our very own ‘Guardian Angel’ of the Tagimoucia Art gallery, Mrs. Jane Ricketts, an art teacher, mentor and mother figure to many who had passed through during the period of her tutorship in this Art Gallery since its inception and humble beginnings in 1998 – Well done and Thank you very much, Maam!

Ladies and  gentlemen, tonight’s art exhibition will feature the work of three artists and three sculptors who had  been working very hard in the Gallery over the last few months to present an exciting collection of paintings and work which I am sure we will all find to be very creative and interesting indeed.  With the theme "Christmas Vakaviti”, these artists offer their own interpretation of The Nativity and the Christmas story in a uniquely Fijian way.

Ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to viewing the Exhibition and hope that we will enjoy the occasion, and furthermore, I implore you not only to just admire and marvel at these beautiful pieces of art, but to buy a Christmas gift from the Collection for a loved one or a friend.  Your kind contribution would be most helpful for those who are less fortunate during this Festive Season.  So please let us all support this Correction Services Christmas Vakaviti Art Exhibition here at the Tagimoucia Art Gallery which will be open to the public for the whole of next week.

In conclusion Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to acknowledge and once again thank the Commissioner, Commander Francis Kean and his hardworking Staff for tonight’s historical occasion and wish all the artists well and every success in their future endeavours. 

I deem it a great honour and a pleasure indeed to declare the Exhibition open and I would also like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Bright, Peaceful and Prosperous 2020.

May Almighty God continue to bless you all and bless our beloved nation Fiji.

Vinaka Vakalevu, Dhanyavad, Shukhriya, Faiek’sia and Thank you all.