Interview with local artist Fu’una currently exhibiting at the Atrium Gallery at One Capitol Hill

Solo Exhibition “27,000 Miles” by Fu’una is now on display 

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Rhode Island artist Fu’una is currently featured in a solo exhibition titled “27,000 Miles” on display at RISCA’s Atrium Gallery at One Capitol Hill, Providence. She is best known for her vibrant use of color and creative methodologies to connect with her surroundings. This exhibition features 30 pieces of artwork in an array of media that includes pastel. We interviewed Fu’una (aka Kameko Branchaud), who has lived in five regions of America, to learn more about her travels and work as a muralist and fine artist.

Q. Of all the places you have traveled, which do you think has had the greatest influence on your work and why?

A. “I think being in Rhode Island has been the greatest influence, because not feeling like I quite fit in here while growing up, and longing for a place that I didn’t have access to, is what drove me to develop that research interest. And oddly enough, even though I am not indigenous here, it is here where I learned to connect with my environment. It’s also the place where my creativity has been nurtured the most. It really makes a difference when you live somewhere that being an artist is an acceptable and encouraged career path.”

Q. How did your indigenous Chamoru ancestry impact your current artwork?

A. “The relationship between my work and my heritage is something that I think about constantly. Some of my work speaks to it very directly but much of it doesn’t. Sometimes I feel guilt for not doing enough to amplify our people or the issues that impact us and our land. Other times I tell myself that I deserve to enjoy the freedom of making meaningless work sometimes. It takes a lot of effort to stay engaged with the issues that are specific to the land when I am on the opposite side of the planet, but sometimes the artwork is a way of maintaining that connection. It’s a constant negotiation between that and needing to produce work that is market-viable. Pacific Islanders are an ultra-minority in the states, so I have to make broader connections. Oftentimes the approach I take is not to only represent Chamoru content, but to approach artmaking with the same research approach that I use when creating content inspired by Guåhan. Colonizers will do everything to remove indigenous people from the land– so I try to keep some connection to mine, and I want to encourage people to stay connected with theirs.”

Q. You are such a versatile artist, known for your murals, portraits, and nature inspired drawings, etc. How did you decide which works to pick for this exhibit and what message are you hoping people will come away with?

A. “I looked through everything I had on hand and started taking note of what cohesive bodies of work I have, what best represents what I am doing currently and want to do more of, and the bodies of work that lead to where I am currently. The gallery has three large walls, so I used that division of display space as a starting point. Having worked in museums I also thought about smaller groupings within each wall. I wanted people to connect my in-studio work to my current installations that they might have encountered in Providence. I thought people might be interested in seeing some of what goes into planning for those, so I included some mural proposals that range from rejected designs and designs for upcoming installations. I made three new large pieces – two triptychs and a dollhouse – to bridge my smaller studio work and my mural practice. It was an interesting exercise to look through my work, find what the continuities were, and to think about the relationships between what might at first glance look like very different creative directions.”

What: Solo Exhibition “27,000 Miles” by Fu’una
When: Gallery Opening Reception: Thurs., March 2 (snow date March 9), from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Free event, open to the public. Gallery Hours: Mon. – Fri., 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Exhibition is on display through April 4.
Where: The Atrium Gallery at One Capitol Hill is on the first floor of the state’s Administration Building, Providence.

Artist Biography
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image_6487327-736x1024.jpgWoonsocket-born, Glocester-raised, and Providence-based; artist Fu’una (aka Kameko Branchaud) has lived in five regions of America, but her roots are firmly planted in Rhode Island. Best known for her poignancy and vibrant use of color, she uses creative methodologies to connect with her surroundings. She’s taken figure drawing lessons from the age of 16 and has a well-rounded studio background in painting, color theory, and anatomical drawing. Fu’una earned her MA in Art + Design Education from RISD in 2014 and her BS in Art Education from Rhode Island College in 2013. She completed additional coursework in art and design at Academy of Art University in San Francisco and Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Her portrait “Masakåda” received First Honorable Mention in the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative 2022 Foundation Show. In 2017 her mural “So Pretty It Hurts” won first place in Punto Urban Art Museum’s juried mural competition of 20 local artists. She is currently an Associate Member of the Pastel Society of America.

Artist statement
I am from many places. I was born in Woonsocket and raised in Glocester, attended high school in Milpitas, California, began my adulthood in Seattle, Washington, and finished college in Providence. My career has taken me to New York, Massachusetts, Guåhan, and Texas–a trail stretching 27,000 miles. My journeys have been a major source of renewal and growth. The new environments and the biodiversity I find are always the most stimulating and seductive aspect.

My intrigue for nature stems from my childhood. The presence of animals in my life has had a particular impact on my sense of wonder. My grandparents had pigs, cows, and a beautiful (and vocal) peacock. My father worked in zoos where we spent many weekends, and at home we had a series of feline companions and a beloved dog. We even fostered an orphaned serval kitten on behalf of the Capron Park Zoo. Artwork from Kenya was hanging throughout our home, including painted cattle skulls and paintings of giraffes. In Glocester, our yard was lush and sublime. It offered yearlong beauty and drama, with alluring names to match: a burning bush, a weeping cherry tree, a trumpet creeper. A Japanese garden and African grass were windows into a world beyond New England. These privileges of mine have always had a presence in my art, and today that connection with nature is emphasized by my concerns over climate change and deforestation.

Wanderlust is in my DNA; I am descended from the world’s greatest navigators. I grew up in the states, but I have ancestral ties to the island of Guåhan, the southernmost of the Mariana Islands in the Pacific. I spent many summers there and even moved there for a short time, which brought about a transformation not only in my art, but in myself. Research took a bigger role in my creative practice. Photography, archives, oral histories, and Chamoru language lessons provided rich source material to pull from. Although I have spent my life stateside, my heritage and how I relate to my indigenous ancestry continue to influence my work. Physical and intellectual exploration enrich my life and will continue to be central to my creative process.

In the studio, there is ongoing conversation between my community-based practice, painting, and illustration. Pastel allows me to lay down layers of color and reflects the additive process of spray painting. The fine line pencil drawing and smooth marker strokes when making flash sheets soothe me while encouraging me to develop multiple ideas on a theme. Digital painting allows me to test concepts and take risks in a medium that isn’t precious. Photography takes me outside where I engage with nature and generate reference images. Drawing cartoons makes me chuckle. A multi-disciplinary approach to making art provides opportunity for discovery, and each medium is in dialogue with the others.

Public art has reinvented my practice. Collaborating with youth groups and clients pushes me to try new ideas and relinquish some (and sometimes all) authorship on a project. Painting in public, where I can see and hear immediate reactions, encouraged me to be playful. It’s also impacted the scale in which I work. Where I was once making ink paintings on 5×7 inch paper because that was all I could afford, my paintings today are larger than my body. There is a lot of rejection and risk in public art. The threat of an unhappy public forces street artists to carefully consider the context and be inclusive in our planning. Competitive calls for art can be frustrating and demoralizing but learning from each rejection led to my success today. Experiencing displacement has influenced the way in which I participate in public art. Murals are often associated with gentrification, but I strive for place keeping rather than placemaking. Creative research is my tool to build that connection and relevance.

Since returning to Rhode Island in early 2021, I’ve transitioned out of the studio and back into murals. Current installations on view include “401: After Winter Must Come Spring” on Weybosset Street in downtown Providence, and a portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe off Wickenden Street, Fox Point. Both were created in partnership with The Avenue Concept. In April, I will complete a seven-panel installation at RFK Elementary in Elmhurst in partnership with Providence ACT. Each new mural I paint here is an act of love and gratitude for this place, my home.