Influences and Artistic History

      Back To My Roots

Unearthing his true identity as a Fijian is the foundation of Nelson Salesi's work and as an indigenous artist of Fiji much of his art is on traditional Fijian masi designs. The dye used for masi is prepared from mangrove tree sap, which Nelson learnt to make from his mother (red & brown is from tree sap, the yellow from turmeric the black from charcoal mixed with tree sap), while he obtains masi in bulk from the womenfolk of Vatulele.

"I'm following the methods of my ancestors, they used to work on natural pigments from the bush. Each masi masterpiece has its own tale...individual pieces are inspired by Fijian legends and folk tales, and old Fijian songs, including the tale of the two princesses of Kadavu who turned into turtles, the shark god Dukuwaqa, and the red prawns of Vatulele.

"I remember these stories told by my ancestors and people from other tribes and villages... I've tried to express these in the way that our ancestors have for hundreds of years."

Nelson does a lot of background research, trying to depict his work in more simple terms so people can comprehend the message behind his paintings. As a young boy Nelson would sketch on any sheet of paper he would come across and took up painting at the age of 16, which was quickly discovered and commercialized by Jacks Handicraft Fiji, after the then director stumbled upon his work. In 1981 he moved to Australia to join a screen printing company as a graphic artist, after 2 years of experience the artist moved on as a freelance commercial and graphic artist.

      Dr Ron Dunsire

Returning to Fiji in 1990 Nelson focused on developing his skills, but a year later, despite having established himself as an artist, Nelson felt a void in his life, then Dr Ron Dunsire, a professor at the Sydney University gave him advice that was the turning point of his career.

During a visit to Fiji in 1997 Dr Dunsire was captivated by Nelsons paintings and saw great potential, the professor asked Nelson to accompany him to the Fiji Museum in Suva to observe the collection of masi on display, he advised Nelson to observe a particular piece (a print of the original version) that was over 100 years old.

"That particular work pulled my attention to want to do something about my work" says Nelson.

Dr Dunsire told him to forsake the western influence that encompassed his work at the time and go back to his roots. Dr Dunsire suggested that Nelson try his hand at painting on masi, when he returned for an exhibition the following year Dr Dunsire was impressed to find that Nelson had taken his advice. Today the masi art dominate his work and his life.


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