Informal Economy

Designing His Future - Josaia Matewai – Entrepreneur’s Journey (FIJI)

Josaia Matewai explains his role in the rapidly evolving visual arts sector in Fiji.

Article | 15 October 2021
My name is Josaia Niuvou Mateiwai and I am from Nadroga in the Fiji Islands. I grew up in a family of self-taught artists. I worked in tourism for some time but switched careers when my parents became terminally ill; art became a distraction for me. It wasn’t until they passed away that I truly considered art as a viable career path.

Josaia Matewai
I now run my own business - LeNiu - a registered art company based in Nadi where I’ve lived and worked for about five years. When I moved to Nadi, I initially worked for an art studio and gallery before resigning to open up my own company. Currently, my home acts as my work space, studio and gallery.

Excitingly, I’ve recently moved into printing and designing clothes and jewellery as well, because of a huge increase in demand for these items.

There are of course several challenges for visual arts in Fiji.

One major one is the lack of a consistent supply of materials for our work. Most materials are imported and the prices are exorbitant because there is no price regulation on these products. At times they can be affordable or even cheap in one shop but in most other shops the price is astronomical.

A recent painting by Josaia
Secondly, for a long time, there wasn’t an active body to represent artists in Fiji. We now have the Western Arts and Crafts Society (WACS) and the Viti Association of Visual Artists (VAVA) which has recently been reactivated to look after the interests of artists. This makes a huge difference!

I am an elected board member of both WACS and VAVA. The associations protect and promote the work of visual artists by providing a legally-recognized organisation that represents artists on matters that concern them.

The UN Informal Economies Recovery Project has greatly assisted artists - both emerging and established - by addressing issues many Fijian artists have been struggling with. This ranges from pricing art, client and customer relations, packaging and shipping and intellectual property rights, to name a few.

Through the Recovery project, we have also received mentorship from other established local artists like Irami Buli. This has been so helpful in helping me understand more about my rights around my work and designs.

I have also learnt how to establish a client base and find a market. Other areas I’m learning about are art preservation, shipping of over-sized pieces and the cost it entails.
Through this, I’m better able to make decisions about how I run and operate my business.

I am very excited about the upcoming training on art business management and the course in fabric and designing for fashion.

My hope for the visual arts sector is that in time, Fiji will open up an art school to train the many amazing artists we have. Additionally, a National Fine Art Gallery where art both from the past and present artists are exhibited on a rotational basis!