Tuesday, 17 January 2017


Mala and her brood - delivering freshly made barkcloth to Sigavou Studios last week

With Fiji's new school year commencing this week, our extended family on the small sandy atoll of Vatulele has been busy raising the extra funds needed to send a son to teacher's college and a daughter to boarding school on the mainland. They do this by heading out to the paper-mulberry plantations near their village, cane-knife in hand, to harvest the tall saplings that have flourished in recent summer rains. There follows a laborious process involving ancient craft traditions: stripping the bark from the saplings - then scraping, soaking, and flattening it into fibrous masi paper, using a log anvil and wooden mallet.

The art of masi-making is generally considered to belong in the women's domain, with techniques and accompanying wisdom being passed down from mothers to daughters across countless generations. However, at least one of our faithful suppliers is the male head of a household - who patiently beats out large swathes of masi alongside his wife, their worn hands and weathered skin bearing witness to a life of hard work, subsistence farming, fishing, and communal living in their remote, seaside village.

Uncle Koli arrives with his first barkcloth delivery of 2017!
Once the masi is sun-dried, our family members journey by boat to Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. They make their way up the coast by bus, arriving at our studio with rolls of precious masi underarm. We now have a fresh supply of beautiful hand-made 'canvas' to use for the many creative projects that will no doubt add meaning and joy to our lives here at Sigavou Studios as 2017 rolls on!

Using modern acrylic paint and contemporary colours
on a canvas of hand-crafted masi - seeped in ancient traditions...

Sunday, 12 June 2016


One of the best things about making a living as an artist is the random moments when something you've created resonates with another human, and there is this unexpected soul-to-soul connection with a complete stranger...
That happened to me again this past week, while I was hanging paintings at our wall display in the Sofitel Resort. A woman from New Zealand came over with her face wreathed in smiles. She had just bought one of our "Pacific Patchwork" silk art pieces which included this monarch butterfly. She told me she'd been following my art for years. When she saw this butterfly, she knew she had to finally buy a piece for her own home.
"Why the monarch?", I asked, explaining about my happy childhood memories in rural Pennsylvania, collecting tiny monarch caterpillars and watching the wondrous metamorphosis from squirming caterpillar to tightly-packed chrysalis, to delicate, air-bourne butterfly. Then later on as a teenager far from home, coming across a tree on a lonely hillside, covered from top to bottom with thousands of monarchs, taking a moment to rest during their annual migration across a huge swathe of North America. Their delicate wings were opening and closing rhythmically, creating the illusion of a breathing tree, turning from vibrant orange to brown to vibrant orange again in all it's borrowed glory.... When, many years later, a monarch butterfly fluttered past me as I was exploring the mountain slopes of my adopted Pacific Island home with my children, I was astounded! They're in Fiji too! How did they get here, across the vast, windswept waters of the Pacific? A question I'm still keen to find the answer to...

The stranger standing in front of me explained that back home in New Zealand, she worked in a hospice for terminally ill children. In accompanying their small patients through the last, fraught weeks of their short lives, the staff at the hospice use the life cycle of the butterfly to open up discussions about death. The children take great comfort in the visionary thought that their dying bodies too will go through unfamiliar changes, but that will not be the end, but an amazing, freeing beginning! Purple, my new friend told me, is a colour loved by many of the children in her care - perhaps because it is so vibrant, so full of life...

We hugged and she walked away, leaving me with a lump in my throat, and gratitude in my heart, reflecting on the power of art, and the chance it brings to touch the lives of others - and in turn be touched by them!

More of our hand-painted Pacific Patchwork silk art collection can be viewed on the Sigavou Studios ISSUU page here:

Wednesday, 18 February 2015


I have had cause in recent months to reflect on the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unexpected odds.  Creating two barkcloth paintings called "Life is For Living I & II" was part of that process:

A random quote caught my eye during the time I was mulling over this project.  " Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain!"

These paintings evolved with that thought in mind.  They focus on the joie de vivre that is a special part of  the Fijian experience of life. This includes the ability to live fully in the moment, to celebrate with no holds barred in childlike-merriment;  a spirit of exuberance that is often missing from the fast-paced life of urban worlds elsewhere... even when the chips are down!

 "Life Is For Living I & II" are currently for sale from our studio in Nadi, Fiji.  External dimensions of frames are 61 x 61 cm. (Can be shipped unframed if you are based outside of Fiji).  Contact us for further details: sigavou@connect.com.fj

Tuesday, 17 February 2015


This is "Island Afternoon" - painted on silk, using silk dyes with metallic gold resist for the lines.  The size of the painting itself is 50 x 90 cm.  I've had it framed with lovely, dark-brown, textured molding, bringing the framed size to about 70 x 110 cm.

Here are some musings on this piece:

This painting celebrates the turquoise and golden
moments of an afternoon at the beach: a languid snorkel
along colourful reefs,  surrounded by schools of fish and coral,
with the occasional shark to liven things up...
Lulled by the rhythm of the waves, we relax under a frangipani tree
in the gentle glow of the late afternoon sunshine,
with freshly-squeezed fruit drinks or a bilo of kava (note the yaqona roots).
The seven-lobed cassava leaf and ripe coconut feature repeatedly
in my artwork as symbols of island sustenance,
the bonds with nature that keep
Fijian communities strong and well-nourished.

This painting is currently for sale. (If you are not based in Fiji you may want to purchase just the artwork - we can take it out of the frame for easy shipping if need be...)  Contact us by email: sigavou@connect.com.fj for details.

Friday, 23 May 2014


Some paintings have a difficult birth with a protracted labour before my concept, sketches, and dyes start to click, and I'm on a creative roll once again (and what a great feeling that is!).
This one, however, just seemed to tumble out of my imagination and on to my barkcloth canvas!  Here's a sneak peak into the creative process behind "FIRE WITHIN"

The 'blank canvas moment'...
My canvas in this case is a piece of beautiful, natural "masi" - traditional Fijian barkcloth made from the inner bark of tropical mulberry trees.  The masi we use in our studio is crafted by women from my husband's family who live on the small island of Vatulele in southern Fiji.  They travel several hours by boat and bus every few weeks to bring us freshly beaten masi - always a joy to receive!

The sketching stage...
My theme is DANCE, ENERGY, PASSION...  I'm painting for a cause - the end result will be donated to the VOU Dance Studio where our son works in Suva.  This trail-blazing local dance company has been instrumental in raising the profile of contemporary performing arts in Fiji, opening all kinds of doors for urban youth with a passion for music, dance, and culture - and the need to be able to make a living from their talents.  They are currently moving mountains as they fundraise to get dance crews across to Canada and the USA where they will be taking part in an indigenous cultural festival and the World HipHop Championships this summer.

The design has been finalised and transferred on to my piece of barkcloth.  Hmm - now for the colours - my favourite part!  I am using fire as my inspiration for this - the colours of flames: crimson, magenta, ochre - with indigo and violet thrown in too!

I'm painting in acrylics.  The rough texture of the barkcloth is a challenge, but the absorbency of the natural fibres lends itself to colour-blending - just up my street!

Reaching the point where I can finally see that the vision I had for this piece is panning out - YES!

The painting part is done - now for some fine outlines in gold metallic paint!

And here's the finished piece!  "FIRE WITHIN" is mounted on a backing board that is covered in a textured collage made from small scraps of barkcloth, painted with black acrylic.

Sunday, 22 December 2013


One of my most recent paintings features a "YAVIRAU' - a traditional, communal way of fishing still practiced by villagers in the outer islands of Fiji.  Usually a noisy and festive occasion, a "yavirau" is often staged in the lead-up to a big village feast.  Many associate this much anticipated event as being a part of Christmas celebrations in remote communities where the "share and care" spirit is still very much alive in closely knit village communities.

Here is the 'story' of my painting as it emerges, along with some photos of a "yavirau" that occured recently in the Yasawa Islands.

This painting is part of a series of nine pieces I created this year around the theme of "Women and the Reef", depicting the relationship rural Fijian women have with the sea as a source of sustenance and identity.

I am painting on white habotai silk, using a metallic gold resist for my outlines, and specialised silk dyes for the paint work itself.

I am now painting the "net" used during a "yavirau".  This consists of long lengths of jungle vines twisted together to form a rope that can be a couple of kilometers long.  Coconut fronds are then tied to the rope, which is piled into a boat and taken out toward the inner edge of the reef at high tide, where it is lowered into the water and held in place in horse shoe shape by the villagers, each clan taking responsibility for one section of the rope.

I'm now adding in my fisher-women!  While village women normally fish and gather seafood separately from the men (the inner reef being the women's domain, the outer the men's) the "yavirau" is an occasion that brings everyone together - each person has an important role to play as the long rope is pushed steadily toward the shore in an ever-tightening arc, enclosing a large number of fish within.

My silk painting has been steamed for several hours and is now ready for framing!

Here it is as part of my "Yau Ni Cakau" collection, now hanging in the newly-built seaside villas at Matamanoa Island Resort in Fiji's Mamanuca group.  Each painting measures 50 x 40 cm (unframed).

To finish this post: some photos of a "yavirau" witnessed by German travel photographer Holger Leue, (http://www.leue-photo.com ) who has kindly given me permission to share these images here:

These photos were taken at Yaroma Island in the Yasawa group.

Traditional fish drives such as this one are only conducted occasionally, as part of customary practices that are decided upon during village meetings and presided over by the village chief or his herald.  Various rituals are involved in the preparation for a "yavirau", including the cleaning of village graveyards as a form of paying respect to the ancestors and ensuring the fish-drive is blessed.

Once the fish are herded together into the palm rope enclosure, they are caught by hand or spear.  The entire catch is then divided out among the various clans of the village, with special portions going to the chief, the talatala (village priest) and to those providing resources such as the large piles of vines and leaves used to create the rope net. 

The "yavirau" is a way of ensuring that no one in the village will go hungry during festive occasions such as Christmas, which is traditionally the time of year when large number of urban dwellers return to their ancestral villages to touch base with the extended family and renew the relationship bonds that play such an important role in the cohesiveness and vitality of Fijian society.

Last 5 photos © by Holger Leue Photography.
Art images © Maria Rova, Sigavou Studios Ltd

Tuesday, 26 March 2013


As this year’s cyclone season draws to a close, Sigavou Studios is celebrating with a special, one-off offer on a set of original silk paintings entitled "Journey of the Vaka I, II, & III".

If you’d like to make these three vibrant works of art a part of your life, please let us know…  (Offer ends April 1st! )  They are supplied unframed, with each painting weighing less than 800 grams – making for safe and easy shipping anywhere in the world!

For more details, and a copy of the story that goes with "Journey of the Vaka", please e-mail me at romarova@connect.com.fj.  I'm excited to learn where my double-hulled canoes may be sailing to!

Saturday, 23 February 2013


AFTERNOON OF DAY FOUR: Yay! It's finally time to start to paint! Can't wait to see how my design will look in colour! I have a general idea of what it's going to be like, but I work intuitively, adding and blending colours as I go along, and I always end up being surprised at what evolves!

DAY FIVE:  Drinking yaqona (also known as kava - a drink made from the crushed roots of the Piper Methysticum plant) is an integral part of Fijian culture.  This 'muddy water', served in a coconut shell from a communal wooden 'tanoa' bowl, is our national drink, used in solemn ceremonies of welcome, burial, and the sealing of various alliances.  Kava-drinking has now evolved into a social past-time, with many of Fiji's multicultural population now unwinding around a tanoa after a long hot day at work...
In deference to this aspect of Fijian identity, a heart-shaped yaqona leaf is added to my painting!

The wonderful thing about painting here, just a few meters away from the beach, is being able to wade into the water and go snorkeling whenever I need a break or some new inspiration!
My temporary studio:  the porch of one of the lovely garden villas at Blue Lagoon Beach Resort
 The children have made friends with the kitchen staff who generously donate surplus bread for their fish-feeding escapades. We swim out to the edge of the coral, where schools of silvery green chromis, zebra and parrot fish swarm in around us... incredibly beautiful!
They get a mention in my painting as well - with a bit of poetic license thrown in as I can't resist a flash of bright red to offset the blues!

DAY SIX at Blue Lagoon Beach Resort:  We have to head back to the mainland today (sigh!) - but there's still time to hop onto a small boat, and head out to a reef a little to the south of this island. Donning flippers and masks, we make the ungainly plunge into the turquoise water - and enter a world of mesmerizing grace and beauty! This reef has lots of soft coral, and patches of anemones, inhabited by various versions of Nemo! But the highlight for me is watching a long black and white striped sea snake (dadakulaci) - by far the biggest I've ever seen, weaving it's way through the coral in a slow-motion underwater dance, seemingly oblivious of the onlookers hovering a few feet above!
Moce Mada - Sota Tale!  We will miss the tranquil beauty of this place!