Photographer a Finalist in PM's Pacific Youth Awards

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“I learnt how important community involvement and service is. Not for acknowledgement, but for the genuine passion of giving back for the betterment of others. I'm really looking forward to getting more involved with the community; I want to be able to use my skills and talents to give back to my people”.

Cook Islands artist Fe’ena Syme Buchanan is a recent graduate of Unitec’s Bachelor of Creative Enterprise where she specialised in photography and illustration.  She chose to study because she didn't want to be a traditional artist with the assumed struggles associated with it - poverty and lack of work.

“I was intrigued by the incorporation of business practices and ethics. I wanted to be an artist but also know how to be a practicing professional,” says Fe’ena.  

Fe’ena was named a finalist in the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards with her highly-acclaimed photographic project exploring the effects of depopulation on Mangaia, the second largest of the Cook Islands.  Her collection of photos formed the topic for her last semester project at Unitec and she recently exhibited her works at the Runanga Vanaanga - National Museum in Rarotonga.   She says the impetus behind the Mangaia project was her desire to bring awareness to a very relevant and widespread social issue.  

“Mapu (young people) like myself are moving away from home because there isn't much going on in terms of opportunity, which is why I returned to Auckland.  It's almost hypocritical, but that’s the reality. In order for me to return home I want to be able to make a real contribution to the community and country, and I feel I can do this through my photography.”

Fe’ena says being a finalist in the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards showed her how important it is to pursue what you’re passionate about.  “Being amongst highly ambitious Pacific youth doing amazing services for the Pacific community in Nuti Reni (New Zealand) was an absolute privilege.  It was an honour to be at the Pacific Youth Awards representing my little paradise. I felt in the right place.”

Fe’ena hopes that her achievement will encourage and inspire youth either living at home in the Cook Islands or in Nuti Reni to be bold. “Don’t settle for ‘average’ or ‘just enough’. Strive for your dreams. Do whatever you can to be the person you ideally want to be.”

Next year, Fe’ena is planning to exhibit her second project Secluded Splendour at the Mangere Arts Centre which she anticipates will draw a response from the Cook Island community living in Auckland.  She then plans to travel to Penrhyn to explore the effects of depopulation on the most Northerly Atoll of the Cook Islands.