Contemporary Artists From Papua New Guinea
Katrina Naomi Wai’in - The Spirit of the River (From East Sepik) (2015)
“This Imago Mundi collection - observes its creator Luciano Benetton - testifies to the link with the past and with the many cultural and mental worlds that are part of this country. In this distant otherness, art breaks away from our traditional interpretative schemes and its understanding requires adequate immersion in the cultures of origin. To fully appreciate the beauty, emotion, strength, even the fear, that these works manifest, we must first and foremost be perceptive travellers.”
Tamare Silas Mc Kinnau - Manus Island (2015)
In Papua New Guinea, moving away from its modern and rapidly expanding capital Port Moresby, we enter increasingly unknown territories, where eight hundred dialects are spoken and where the tribes are ever more distant from civilization in the Western mould. Nonetheless, the country has a unique economic potential, with large reserves of gold, copper, natural gas, oil and forests that cover 82 per cent of its surface area.
Freddy Akiss Joe - Tumbuan Lives (2015)
Isolated groups and clans still live in the depths of these forests, bearing witness to a past that has long been lost to us. They include a nomadic tribe who takes refuge in hidden caves. The Meakambut remained unknown to the rest of the world until, some years ago, the anthropologist Nancy Sullivan discovered about fifty people who still hunt birds and wild pigs with spears and hand-made arrows. Another group, the Korowai, live in homes built in trees to escape the sudden attacks of rival tribes. And the Huli paint their faces yellow to intimidate their adversaries and place the skulls of their parents high on rocks to spread benevolent influences.
Clement Koys - Bilas (2015)
The legacy of these customs should be evaluated in the context of an ideal connection between the Papuan cultural tradition and contemporary art. Jeffry Feeger, artist and art curator, is optimistic: “In this country – he says - still with so much undiscovered potential and promise in the air, it is certainly a new dawn for Papua New Guinea contemporary art.”
Jeffry Feeger - The Origin of Form (2015)
Joan Winter, director of the local cultural foundation Massim, analyzes the content of the 140 Imago Mundi works and focuses her attention on the “Forgotten Bird of Paradise” by Joshua Badegadega, “a unique painting, an acknowledgement to PNG’s persecuted Melanesian neighbours in the Indonesian Provinces of Papua and West Papua, the other half of the island of New Guinea.”
Joshua Badegadega in “Forgotten Bird of Paradise” has chosen to paint the West Papuan flag, the morning Star, symbols of West Papua; the tears of suffering married to the traditional and typical curvilinear designs of so much of the island of New Guinea’s Melanesia culture. He has included the Bird of Paradise, also an iconic symbol in PNG where it is central on the Coat of Arms.
Joshua Badegadega Kauke - Forgotten Bird of Paradise (Dedicated to the West Papuan Region and the Freedom Fighters of West Papua) (2015)
She highlights a group of works about bilas, “all that with which we adorn our bodies in PNG,” ingenious, innovative and diverse masks, elaborate feathered, tapa and multi-medium headdresses, infinitely various face and body painting and body adornments. Adorning, changing ones personal demeanour happens for all sorts of ritual, ceremonial, war related and tourism events. From the group of warrior portraits, perhaps the most striking are Moses Minipa’s Worrior and Venantius Gadd’s Warrior Mask. John Siune is a much celebrated and recognised artist
in PNG. His Simbu Warrior dances frenetically in a pose that is more threatening than deadly.
John Siune - Simbu Worrior (Warrior) (2015)
In the painting “Unique Culture” Paula David Constantinou includes a decorated Trobriand Island girl. The most accomplished painting in this group is Simon Izrael Varcilli’s “Welcome the dawn” another Trobriand Islander girl, a dancing welabana surrounded by very significant Trobriand Island cultural objects such as the mwali and soulava/bagi
Abraham Tokwadogia Moyouwa - Lime Pot (2015)
Winter also lingers over “Local Lifestyle” by Bruce Mathias. “Here a highland warrior walks with his bow and arrow while his wife carries heavy bilums or string bags full of vegetables behind. Her pet pig, which she has probably suckled, trails behind her. Don’t you love the piglet.”
Bruce Mathias - Local Lifestyle (2015)
We cannot help but love the children of Papua New Guinea too: in “My Nephew” by Ian Jeva, “Child in a Bilum” by Ken Vovoki or Rolland Harvey Musob’s more jagged “Neglected Child”. is now a more common sight as urbanization and the poverty it brings for too many, takes hold. Environmental concerns are also in evidence as drought takes hold in this once tropical paradise turning mainland regions to dust and smaller island communities to water logged misery through climate change.
Rolland Harvey Musob - Neglected Child (2015)
There is nostalgia in the finely painted “A Rural Village Life” by Marlon Madon Kuelinad, continually being eroded by urbanization. There is digital and international influences in Philemon Yalamu’s work titled “Transition” with another Bird of Paradise. “Spy Man” by Senton Watai shows a level of sophistication and subtlety.
Claire Tawake Janget - Nais (2015)
Medical practitioner and art hobbyist Poyap Rooney, inspired by the work of Wesevo has helped to pioneer the practice of Art as therapy for mental health and wellbeing via his newly established Korobesea Medical clinic. Informal lessons in creative painting hosted weekly by Wesevo aim to incorporate a more holistic approach toward art. Participants in his lessons include Lorraine Michael a gifted 12 year old diagnosed with hearing impairments and mood disorder, Allan Mogerema a popular and influential yoga instructor and Hannah Hola a former Arts and drama student.
Hannah Hola - Painful Silence (2015)
The worldwide phenomenon of sophisticated Graffiti Art has also begun to evolve, led by pioneers such as Benjamin Dani and his company of young graffiti artists “Six7Five”. Graphic artists Jack Avai and Stanislous Motolova are fusing traditional PNG designs with calligraphy and graffiti art styles, helping to define a modern and commercial PNG aesthetic.
Stanislous Motolova - Island Life (2015)
In contrast to Port Moresby’s hustle and bustle is the scenic township of Alotau in Milne Bay Province. It is home to the Contemporary Artist Association “28Kreativ”, a group of collaborating musicians, painters, poets and dancers that are creatively exploring new platforms to promote the arts. Also based in Alotau are a group of carvers from the Trobriand Islands who live in the Kitava compound, they carve various stylized depictions of animals and traditional cultural figures.
Iluma Kaipaka - Sting Ray (2015)
All this leads us to reflect on the humanity of the Papuan artists, in the words of Luciano Benetton, “to go back to basics, to the meaning of the land and, through their eyes - as Marcel Proust wrote in his Recherche – ’to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is.’ With the hope of discerning, through them, something of our mystery.”
Art Direction, Photography and Production
La Biennale di Malindi Ltd
Demetrio De Stefano
Special Thanks to
Nathalie Le Riche
Tony Wesley Evernnett
Norman V. Evennett
Rainbow Art Studio
Resurection Primary School
The Moresby Arts Theatre
The University of Papua New Guinea
Translation and editing