The quote by Jerzy Kosinski “The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke” comes to mind as I sat down to read through my next profile for my Fijian Women of the World (FJWOW) series. Our story is one that touches on the subject of how nurturing the talent and passion for the arts is one that is part and parcel of life growing up in the islands, a part of life that is carried with us no matter where in the world we choose to settle. Meet self-taught artist, entrepreneur and co-founder of Beach Please Fiji, Alamanda Datt.
Alamanda comes from quite a diverse background. Growing up in Fiji, she recalls how a mixed race family was not something that was the norm as it is today. Having a mixed Indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian heritage would create conversations which at times would be somewhat awkward and unwelcomed. However this did not dampen the rich and diverse childhood that it provided for her. Alamanda recalls her childhood days being spent between her mother's village and her paternal grandmothers home during school breaks. She reminisces on how the experience of growing up in two different cultures, more or less piqued her interest and birthed her love for the traditional methods of art that both cultures embodied. She describes her fascination with the traditional method of mat weaving and the intricacy of the designs implemented by her maternal grandmother as one that drew her artistic persona towards art like a magpie to shiny objects. Little did Alamanda know, that this little snippets of traditional arts that she was being introduced to at such a tender age would be the foundation on which her now flourishing business would be set upon.
Alamanda left Fiji at a young age when she married her high school sweetheart. Coming from a very close-knit family meant that adjusting to life so far away from them was challenging. Throw a toddler and the constant upheaval of moving that comes with being a military family into the mix, Alamanda soon found out that her new life was quite isolated and one she had not prepared herself for. As any parent can relate to, Alamanda says that at times she would find herself feeling that her children were missing out on being around family and that the constant moving was not allowing them to grow roots in one particular area. But in saying that, she feels that the nomadic lifestyle that her children had grown accustomed to made the transition of moving back to Fiji a lot easier for them and they have taken to life in Fiji like ducks to water.
Being brought up in a household where creative thinking and processes was always encouraged, it is no wonder that her business enterprise, Beach Please Fiji was co-found by none other than another family member, her sister Lynette. The focus for their business is mainly hand-lettered, made-to-order home decor and artwork. Before moving to Fiji, Alamanda had her own small business here in the UK called Craftysaurus, a name that she says came about from her then 8 year old's endearing term for her during his love for dinosaur phase - Mummysaurus. Although self-taught, Alamanda is a firm believer that many of the skills involved is innate. Growing up she describes her childhood as always being surrounded by family members who expressed their artistic flair in the creation of art pieces that utilised unconventional resources, one such example being the use of an old x-ray film to make a stencil inorder to transfer design onto fabric. Alamanda believes that the skill of working & creating with one's hand is grossly undervalued in Fiji and she hopes that in time, hopefully in the not too distant future, this mindset will change.
Alamanda was recently invited to host a workshop focusing on hand-lettering. The workshop touched on the subject of the value of an artists skill and how much time and effort is spent honing that skill and also the understanding of why artistic work is priced as they are. Many times customers are oblivious of the hours upon hours of trial and error that goes into perfecting a skill. Seeing the positive impact of her empowering talk and sharing of ideas with participants has made her consider teaching as a potential career path. Although she says she would prefer to teach art at primary school level as she sees it as an opportunity to encourage young people of Fiji to explore and recognise their full potential. If by doing so, it results in making an impact on even just one person then at least she knows her efforts have not been in vain. Alamanda and a few other other small business entrepreneurs in Fiji have also begun trying to mobilise and create awareness for a movement called #shopsmallfiji. She hopes that by campaigning and creating conversations about it, that it will encourage people to choose to shop from small businesses rather than the large retail corporations.
Art for Alamanda has been her anchor in the years and more or less kept her sane especially being an army wife. For those of us who are one, we can relate to how unpredictable and how at times life is filled with anxiety and fear when it comes to deployment. During those times, she saw her art as a hobby to pass the time and not a full-time career. In the back of her mind, she always believed that as soon as her children were old enough to go to school full-time, she would get back in to what she felt then as what society dictated to be a "proper" career or your run of the mill 9-5 job. However all this changed with the arrival of her youngest, who was diagnosed with autism. Alamanda describes caring for an autistic child as being all-consuming. That if one is not careful, your child becomes the whole focus of your life and everything else becomes secondary. She has learnt that conventional methods that she used to teach her older two children did not necessarily work for her youngest. But she's learnt to celebrate the small victories when it comes to him and understand that what others may see as a weakness can be transformed into a strength for him, one such example being that although he may not take directions well and at times fights it, given the space and freedom to figure out how to deal with a particular situation, he usually exceeds expectation, it helps also that he has a photographic memory. Alamanda feels that her youngest has strengthened her resolve to go above and beyond her expectations and fulfil aspirations that she may have set aside. Its also strengthened their family relationships and given her a whole new perspective on being a mom not only to her older two children but most especially to her youngest.
One of the challenges that Alamanda pointed out that young people who were considering going into a similar career face, is being told to put aside their creative talents for academic driven studies out of fear of not being able to be financially stable in the long run. She says that although the realities of life may make one choose to put art on the back-burner, you must however always remember to never allow that doubt to plague your creative process or stop you from creating. As is with everything else, a bit of hard work and dedication goes a long way. Discipline is key and sacrificing of your own personal time to work on your skill is vital to your progress. Stay true to yourself and be honest about finding the time to fit everything in. Prioritise your tasks and everything else will flow.
Alamanda's inspiration and mentor in all that she does has always been her family, but more so her father. She describes her Dad as a jack of all trades who is never afriad to try anything new. She says one of his traits that has encouraged her to stay true to her dreams is his tenacity to push boundaries and achieve all that he sets out to do. Alamanda expressed how truly blessed her life is with both her mothers and her sisters always on hand to cheer her on and lift her up whenever she needs that encouragement to face her battles head on. She has also had the privilege of meeting and forging friendships with incredible people who she says, are always so supportive of her aspirations in life. Alamanda has found that having people beside you whose belief that you are capable of so much more is empowering and pushes you to do more than what you set out to do.
I hope you've enjoyed reading about Alamanda's journey, and I look forward to bringing you more stories about phenomenal Fijian Women Of The World. I leave you with a favourite quote of mine from Albert Einstein, "Creativity is contagious - Pass it on!"
Love & Light,