Artists of Samoa’s correctional facility at Tanumalala were able to display their pieces for auction at a special event held at the Taumeasina Island Resort on Friday night.
Hosted by the Ministry of Police Prisons and Corrections Services in close collaboration with the British High Commission in Samoa and Samoa Stationery and Books – the inaugural “Second Chance – Art Exhibition and Auction” was well a huge success, attended and supported by members of the public invited to either purchase a piece of artwork, or make a donation towards continued rehabilitation programmes.
The paintings and art pieces on display were the work of an Advanced Art Class within Tanumalala prison established for educating, motivating, changing behaviour and upskilling the men and women inmates who take part in the rehabilitation program.
The initiative aims to create a platform where inmates can forge a better future for themselves and inspire people through their works of art.
Most inmates join the program with little to no experience, however, the program soon brings out the creativity and the Advanced Class have become well versed with technical skills and knowledge needed, after only a few weeks.
Artists of rehabilitation program alongside their artwork at exhibition.
The first piece to go up for auction was the “Funky Tapa”, a traditional painting by the female artist of the program, Aitogi Salanoa of Fogapoa. The concept behind her painting targets the influence of Europeans on Samoan culture, the picture depicts a culture grounded by tradition – but may change through time. She relates this concept to prison where the changes in management and environment can create different patterns in the system. The Funky Tapa sold at auction for $350.
Stand out student artist Elisara Toetu is one of many students who entered the program with no skills in art but quickly excelled after participating in classes. Toetu is known for painting portraits of prominent people of Samoa, notably his portraits of Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataʻafa and Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson.
Toetu said the main reason behind his painting of Hon Fiame was to capture a “historical era for our people” of Samoa having a female Prime Minister for the first time. Last year Toetu had the opportunity to meet Senior Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson who has always advocated for rehabilitation programs for inmates and played a crucial role in the development of the program. Toetu said he wanted to dedicate a portrait to him.
Artist Vitolio Usoalii was grateful and excited when he first heard about the program as he’s had a deep passion for painting and creating artistic work. His abstract piece “Mixed Emotions” captures the battles he faced with his own emotions when he first entered prison.
He felt lost, stressed, uneasy and miserable for losing the connection with his family. The broken watch represents his wasted time spent in prison and the tanoa represents his culture which became a source of strength he relied upon while serving his imprisonment term.
After an intense bidding war between attendees, auctioneer Cindy of Samoa sold the final piece of the night for $1050. The painting that sold for the highest amount was a monochromatic portrait of former Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi by Poneti Petelo Papalii of Malie and Laulii. The artist says the portrait honours the many decades of commitment by Tuilaepa to serve as a leader for as long as he did.
PPCS representative and Art teacher George Keneti spoke with SGN to discuss how the rehabilitation program ensures prisoners are reintegrated back into society with changed mindsets, improved social development and skills for income earning opportunities so that they can contribute to society, their families and villages after serving time.
Deputy Police Commissioner Leiataualesa Samuelu Afamasaga, on behalf of the Ministry of Police, Prison and Corrections expressed his sincerest gratitude for the support from local and international partners who came together to co-fund the project.
“It takes a village to raise a child but when that child grows up and falls into the wrong path then I believe it takes the whole nation, in fact the whole international community to rehabilitate that child…that is a testament to this evening’s event” said Samoa’s Head of Prisons and Correctional Services.
The event was made possible through the ongoing support and commitment of Samoa Stationery and Books (SSAB) and the British High Commission office in Apia – who helped re-establish the Ministry of Police Prisons and Corrections Services facilities back in September 2021.