This interview was originally published on the Colour Box Studio website in 2013.
"Torika Bolatagici talks to Colour Box Studio about becoming an artist and her Community Reading Room installation which is open to the public 1-22 June.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m a Melbourne-based artist and educator. I’m a full-time lecturer in photographic theory and practice at Deakin University. I’m also a doctoral candidate at the College of Fine Arts (UNSW).
Describe your art.
My interdisciplinary practice investigates the relationships between visual culture, human ecology and contemporary Pacific identities. I work across a range of media, including photography, video and mixed-media installation. My work has been exhibited in the United States, Mexico, Aotearoa and Australia. Most recently my series Export Quality (2009/12) was included in the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial, 20-Year Archive project.
Where did you grow up and has it influenced what you create?
I was born in Hobart, Tasmania and spent the first few years of my life living between Hobart, Sydney and my Dad’s village in Fiji – Suvavou. My parents separated when I was in primary school, and Dad passed away when I was in college. Art has always been a part of my life. Mum and I lived a pretty bohemian lifestyle of music festivals and I remember going to ANZART exhibitions and performances with Mum in the 80s. We always made an effort travel across (by ferry in those days) to major music events and exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney. So visual arts, music and performance have always been a part of my life. It’s all I’ve known.
I went to this Catholic highschool in Hobart called Mt Carmel College. We had a fantastic teacher called Mrs Beck who transformed one of the convents into a darkroom. She was instrumental in teaching me the basics of exposure and photographic printing. I fell in love with photography instantly. I purchased my first camera and dark room equipment in my last year of highschool. It was a Pentax P30. I transformed our tiny housing commission bathroom in Sandy Bay into a darkroom where I experimented with processing my own film, printing and toning. I still have that original enlarger. I just can’t part with it. Maybe my children will want to use it one day…
In matric (years 11 and 12) I continued to study photography, graphic design, life drawing and art theory (under the tutelage of the wonderful Dr Wayne Brookes). When I was 17, at the end of matric I took a year out, played bass guitar in some rock and roll bands and moved to Melbourne for a little while. When I moved back to Hobart, I enrolled in an Arts degree at the University of Tasmania. I was taking some subjects at the art school and some subjects in humanities (sociology, political science, Aboriginal studies). I really struggled in my first year at University. I was the first person in my family to go to Uni, and so I felt really lost. There was no one to guide me through the protocols of academia and I was quite overwhelmed. I remember my Aboriginal Studies teacher rolling his eyes at me, because I would fly into his office at 5pm on a due date with my handwritten essays. I didn’t even realise there was a computer lab on campus where I could actually word-process and print my essays.
I don’t know what happened, but one day in sociology class, something just clicked, and I wrote an essay called “No Justice, No Peace” about the LA Riots. I had been barely passing my other subjects, and when I saw a big “D-“ on my paper, I was devastated and about to quit. Then I found out that a D was a Distinction, and since then I haven’t looked back. I discovered that when I was writing about something I was passionate about, it was easy. I was getting into the writing of bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Angela Davis, Bobbi Sykes and going to feminist conferences with mum where I would attend lectures by writers, poets and activists like Jackie Huggins, Marcia Langton and Lisa Bellear. So I suppose it’s not surprising that my writing and research is focused on gender, race and visual culture."