Vanuatu wood carver seizes new opportunity

Standing tall and strong in front of our Prime Minister’s Office is Vanuatu’s biggest wooden sculpture of the national coat of arms. It has been crafted by the Pacific’s-renowned Vanuatu artist Philemon James.

From the island of Tongoa in Magarisu village, Philemon is a young man who has made his name throughout the islands of Vanuatu as a skilled carver; and carving is his life.

He has represented Vanuatu internationally at the Pacific Arts Festival and he makes his living selling his products to tourists and local businesses.

The winds of change have blown through Vanuatu though, with the closure of borders to visitors due to COVID-19.

Businesses are under pressure and isolation has been a disaster for the tourism sector.

Like every other independent artist, Philemon has found the changes hard.

Previously, he would carve and his wife would sell his work to tourists.

“Now with the borders closed, I have to find another way to market my products and I can’t keep sitting around feeling sorry for myself,” he told VBTC.

“Someone once said ‘opportunities don’t happen. You create them’, so, I have created another product that is now starting to sell in the local market and I think it’s great.”

Philemon’s new product is a carved wooden block for printing on fabric. He saw an opportunity in the local markets around Port Vila and thought he’d give producing the printing blocks a try.

So far, mama’s in the local markets are showing interest, some have already purchased and others have already started using them to print on lavalavas and T-Shirts.

Though the dynamics of businesses have changed in Vanuatu with COVID-19, Philemon has found a way out to bring a little income into his family.

His determination has proven that with the right eyes, change can bring new opportunities.

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