Georgina Beier, art pioneer, dies at 82
18 July 2021
NOOSA - Georgina Beier (1938-2021), called the ‘founding mother’ of contemporary art in Papua New Guinea, died in Sydney last Sunday aged 82.
Her husband, Ulli Beier (1922–2011), was a German editor, writer and scholar who pioneered the development of literature in Nigeria and Papua New Guinea.
Born in London, Georgina enrolled in the Kingston Art School aged 16, however dropped out after 15 months, later saying she felt the academic atmosphere could impede her development as an artist.
In 1959 she migrated to Zaria in northern Nigeria where she met Ulli, becoming his second wife. In 1963, they moved to Osogbo, a city in south-west Nigeria, a place she loved and to which she returned many times during her life.
Following the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war in 1966, the couple relocated to the just established University of Papua New Guinea.
Georgina’s broad oeuvre covered drawing, murals, sculptures, graphic art, textiles and theatre design brought her international acclaim and her works feature in some of the world’s largest private art collections.
In both Nigeria and PNG, she was a major catalyst for arts movements and was skilful in identifying and developing new talent. In a number of cases Georgina’s mentoring led to an artist receiving international recognition.
Georgina’s diversity as an artist and a commitment to mentoring others led her to create the studio space where painter and sculptor, Mathias Kauage OBE, artist Timothy Akis and more than 20 others artists began their careers.
Amongst other projects she established the silk screen textile printing industry in PNG, formed the nucleus of the National Art School, introduced painting to psychiatric patients at Laloki Hospital and with Timothy Akis established the National Art Prize
Georgina attributed her success to never considering herself as a teacher but as an artist looking for opportunities to confirm the individual vision of her peers.
Over the years, Georgina and Ulli Beier lived in Papua New Guinea, Australia, India, Nigeria and Germany.
Wherever she went, Georgina maintained her own prolific output of sculptures, textiles, lithographs, furniture design, murals and mosaics, contributed to the development of local artists, and illustrations publications produced or edited by Ulli.
She held more than 30 single-show exhibitions around the world and participated in 28 group exhibitions including at the Tate Modern Gallery in London and the Museum of Modern Art in Australia.
Georgina and Ulli donated their papers to the National Library of Australia in 2008
Amongst much valuable material, they include transcriptions of her tape recorded conversations with Kauage and other PNG artists, and copies of publications she illustrated including Words of Paradise: Poetry of Papua New Guinea and When the Moon was Big, and Other Legends from New Guinea.
Thank you for this insightful obituary. Georgina and Ulli were a formidable team and passionate advocates for the self determination many Indigenous cultures, including that of Aboriginal Australia. They helped my research enormously.
Posted by: Marie Geissler | 10 January 2023 at 09:11 AM
Ulli and Georgina Beier in many ways symbolised the early 1970s in Port Moresby, both as colourful (mentally and in dress) as any Kauage painting. Indeed to the point of being intimidating.
In 1975 I was desperately attempting to get anything other than Bougainvillea to grow in my Waigani garden when I was approached by a Simbu man waving a scrap of paper.
It appeared he wanted to replace me in my gardening efforts because both the scrawl on the paper and his tok pisin seemed to suggest that he was skilled with wheelbarrows - until I realised that the paper was a recommendation on his behalf from Georgina's husband.
Posted by: Richard Jackson | 16 December 2021 at 12:46 AM
Thank you Keith for this obit. The photos are priceless and remind us of the force and originality of Georgina's personality.
Posted by: Anthony Wallis | 01 August 2021 at 05:59 AM
Dear Gabi - We at the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding based in Osogbo where Ulli and Georgina Beier's archive is located are planning to hold a virtual roundtable in honour of Georgina's great work while alive.
I hope you can oblige me the opportunity to discuss the event further with you.
My email is email@example.com. Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks.
Raheem Raheem Oluwafunminiyi is a Junior Research Fellow in the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding at Osogbo in Nigeria. He is undertaking a doctoral program in the Department of History and International Studies, University of Ilorin. I have passed on Raheem's request to Gabi - KJ
Posted by: Raheem Oluwafunminiyi | 31 July 2021 at 04:51 PM
See also this obituary of Georgina Beier in The Cable, a Nigerian publication
Posted by: Raheem Oluwafunminiyi | 30 July 2021 at 08:12 AM
Keith - Two days after attending Georgina's funeral here in Sydney I received your brilliant obituary - via Canada! An anthropologist friend forwarded it to me.
It is superbly written, and I have taken the liberty of posting it on Taim Bipo. But I have no idea how you came to have the news, how you came to have the information, and indeed how you came by the fabulous photo.
I thought you might have done a brilliant summary of her book, but that photo is not in it. I would now like to pass your obit on to the Post Courier and UPNG, but since they are not social media, I feel I need your permission.
I think Georgina's son Sebastian has tried to get in touch with you, but when I talked to him two days ago he hadn't succeeded.
I hope you can solve the riddle - neither Sebastian nor Tunji, her sons, knew of you or your work - and can give permission for further use of this.
BTW I was also briefly in the education section of the ABC in Port Moresby from September to December 1959 - we should have overlapped, but didn't it seems.
I actually ran away to Goroka because I found the racism in the place abhorrent. Like the Beiers, I'd come from Nigeria and had experienced a very different setup.
I've been in touch with Gabi offline - KJ
Posted by: Gabi Duigu | 21 July 2021 at 08:35 PM
An excellent obituary. Only one minor point: she was just short of 83 years when she died.
Thanks Gabi - now fixed - KJ
Posted by: Gabi Duigu | 18 July 2021 at 11:10 AM