FIFTY years of contemporary visual art in Papua New Guinea, with a focus on the country’s relationship with Australia, is explored in a major exhibition opening at the Queensland Art Gallery from 15 October.
No. 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966–2016 will delight audiences with bold colour, towering sculptural forms, humour and hauntingly beautiful sounds.
This is the first time the gallery has presented an exhibition of this scale entirely focused on Papua New Guinea.
It draws together some of the earliest works from PNG acquired for the collection, generous gifts from Australians with long-term connections to the young independent nation, and works secured through the gallery’s flagship Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art.
In addition to bilas (ornamentation) and masks used in singsings, ‘No.1 Neighbour’ includes sculpture, textiles, painting, photography, ceramics, printmaking, music and dance.
A major new collaborative work, a Bit na Ta (the source of the sea), has been commissioned from Australian musician, composer and producer David Bridie and popular Tolai musician George Telek, with the involvement of the Tolai community of East New Britain.
Audiences will be drawn into the immersive, distinctly Tolai cultural space where the compelling sounds of Telek’s voice, supported by the Sekut Matupit Choir and the Moab, Gilnata and Amidel string bands, translate the rhythms of Tolai life from 1875 to 1975.
Other highlights will include a new multimedia installation by Australian-born Chimbu artist Eric Bridgeman, selections of work by pioneering women artists Wendi Choulai and Mary Gole, and the spectacular Koromb spirit house 2012 ceiling by Kwoma artists from the East Sepik region — a work commissioned by the gallery.
The Koromb highlights the importance of these buildings as places of local decision-making and acknowledges the Kwoma-inspired ceiling of Parliament House in Port Moresby and the parliamentary legacy of the Westminster system.
The period around independence was a time of enormous energy and optimism in Papua New Guinea. The process of decolonisation created a new nation, and with it the need for new narratives, identities and dialogues, to which artists have made important contributions.
A focus of the exhibition is the period around Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975, a time characterised by rapid creative experimentation and artistic vibrancy.
Works by pioneering artists Timothy Akis, Mathias Kauage, David Lasisi, Simon Nowep and Jakupa Ako draw on strong ties to culture while critically reflecting on the impact of new technologies and an increasingly urbanised lifestyle on PNG culture.
A group of Tolai Tokatokoi headdresses, with the traditional ancestor figure replaced with images of the Virgin Mary, and a Sepik sculpture entitled Adam and Eve 2011 are some of the works which reflect the continuing strength and flexibility of custom and culture as they meet and engage with Christianity.
The exhibition also celebrates women artists with works by Wendi Choulai, the Ömie people, Florence Jaukae-Kamel, Lisa Hilli, Julia Mage’au Gray, Taloi Havini and senior potter Mary Gole.
From 10am to 4pm on Saturday 15 October, the gallery will present programs in conjunction with the exhibition including the a Bit na Ta performance featuring George Telek, the performance event Twist and Loop focusing on bilum and the innovative work of Florence Jaukae Kamel, artists talks, curator tour and a traditional sago cooking demonstration.
Accompanying the exhibition, the gallery’s substantial and highly illustrated publication No.1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966–2016 draws on the gallery’s collection and builds on the major presentation of work from the country in the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art.
No.1 Neighbour highlights the gallery’s strong focus on the contemporary art and culture of the Pacific and its unique manifestations in Papua New Guinea.
(top) Simon Gende / Papua New Guinea b.1969 /Kuman people, Chimbu Province / No 1 Kiap blong Australia Mr Jim Taylor I brukim bush long Highlands Papua Niugini (The first Australian Officer, Mr Jim Taylor, in an exploratory mission in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea) 1999 / Synthetic polymer paint on canvas / Purchased 1999 / Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / © The artist
(middle) George Telek, Musician, Papua New Guinea, Tolai people, East New Britain Province / Live performance for Lowy Institute, 40 years of Independence, GOMA September 2015
(bottom) Cover of the illustrated publication No.1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966–2016