Can the internet give us better government?
Ode for the late Joachim Kombut

Our art is glorious but not taken seriously

This Kauage painting is the first thing visitors see when they enter my house. PNG paintings have been sold for up to $US5,000 (K18,000), yet PNG does little to  promote art as an industry - KJ

| Sipikriva Girl

BRAUN, MOROBE – I have observed that many Papua New Guinean artists and artisans, hoping to sell their work, display photographs of their art in social media, at local fairs and at monthly craft markets.

Among these artists and artisans are people who are extraordinarily talented.

And these people share a common opinion: Why doesn't their own government, and even their own people, recognise that art is a goldmine?

Most times it seems that their art only catches the eyes of expatriates.

At other times, it may catch the eyes a hotel manager or restaurant owner, who just want to put something on the walls of their businesses. Something pleasing to catch the eye of customers.

Most Papua New Guinean households have no paintings on their walls.

I walk into houses with Chinese fabric tribal prints hung on walls as decorations and cheap wool handcraft hanging off nails. Nobody ever puts up paintings.

Art is not encouraged, probably because it does not bring in the big bucks. Or so goes the limited thinking of our countrymen and women.

Yes, I’ve read of the starving artists living together in studio apartments in New York, but what is there to lose for our artists?

Most of them have raw talents, not refined by art school or by learning from the greats.

Give them an easel, a stretch of canvas and a palette and they will create exquisite creations that put you in awe.

There is a hierarchy of jobs in the country. There are engineers and doctors, then lawyers, hundreds of other occupations and finally artists. Artists are never taken seriously.

I sit and ponder upon this for a while. I’ve not even written much for Sipikriva Girl for some months.

The blog is something I look fondly through every couple of months, like an old school magazine.

I cringe over the typos and badly written stories - and wonder if I can help and sell the art of my people here, on this blog?

I have reached out to artists on social media, people who just post their stuff in art groups and communities, and asked them if I can help them sell their art.

A few were quite worried that I was a scammer, a couple jumped at the opportunity to sell their art and one wanted a meet.

My next post will be me advertising the art of my people, I truly hope that one or two get snatched up by a true lover of art.


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Ross Wilkinson

Hazel’s article has caused to stir the memory banks and a search of our PNG memorabilia. It also led back to a previous article on this site that I must have glossed over at the time – Sorry, Keith!

Where are those old Sogeri books? - Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG ATTITUDE

This also led to the following newspaper article where it explains that there are more Sogeri books than the three described in Keith’s article including the one that is our collection.

29 Aug 1979 - THE FIRST 10 YEARS: PUBLICATIONS - Trove (

In 1978 I was serving at Saidor in the Madang Province as the District Officer-in-Charge. A young English couple, working as volunteers, overnighted with us. A young PNG man was travelling with them who was quite engaging and struck a chord with my wife over a common interest in art.

As a gesture of appreciation he presented us with a copy of the book described above as the “Red Sogeri Book” and titled “Asimba.” He identified himself as one of the artists whose works were displayed in the book and kindly signed one of the drawings he identified as his – JP Lawes or Powesiu Lawes.

The other artists identified as contributing works to the book were:
Jack Sirau Manea Paraka
Paiwa Bogela Kere Naime
Paul Kodor Jon Loko
George U Kaiza Patrick Keaga
Freda Walo Jenny Mae Verave
Roland Boga Billy Omoa
Joachim K Miway Hanneman Kadeu

The book was produced by the Expressive Arts Department of Sogeri Senior High School and printed by Hebamo Press in December 1975. The book was prepared for publishing by Barry Ison.

So there was clearly a very strong cultural program at the school that encouraged the students to identify with and express their thoughts on their respective cultures through the forms of the art medium. The school also encouraged the students to participate in cultural visits as indicated in the newspaper reports following:

01 Oct 1974 - Sharing PNG dances - Trove (
15 Aug 1974 - Our young ambassadors - Trove (

I have also seen a report where a group of Sogeri students visited Scotch College here in Melbourne during this period.

The following article provides an insight into the dedication of teachers like Barry Ison carrying forward strong art programs to encourage students to recognize and appreciate the various aspects of village cultures in such a diverse nation as Papua New Guinea through artistic activities.

13 May 1977 - In giving, he receives - Trove (

Hazel poses a question and the answer may be purely economic , as it was many years ago, that the expatriate residents and tourists are the only ones with spare money to spend on luxuries such as artworks. But there may also be a cultural aspect to the issue in that local people may not see reasonably representative images that reflect their idea of their own culture with its myths and legends.

Chris Overland

I think that Hazel is making a good point. Indigenous art is frequently undervalued, whether in PNG or elsewhere.

For example, for a very long time Aboriginal artists in Australia were only valued if they could paint in the style of European art.

Albert Namatjira is a good example of this phenomenon, although it must be said that he undoubtedly was a brilliant artist, and his water colours are greatly admired and sought after to this day.

The art world is notoriously fickle and prone to fads. It remains a mystery as to why the work of some artists is deemed exceptionally meritorious and valuable while the work of others is dismissed as uninspired or unimportant or otherwise lacking merit.

Thus, for a considerable period the work of the French impressionists in the late 19th century was regarded as lacking any real merit until, eventually, its true worth and significance was finally accepted. Now, of course, paintings by Monet or Van Gogh sell for many millions of dollars.

In a somewhat similar way, Aboriginal art done in the traditional dot painting style was largely ignored or even disparaged for a very long time.

But times and attitudes change and now the best examples of this very ancient painting style are commanding impressive prices in both the local and international art markets.

I can attest to this through first-hand experience. My wife and I bought a beautiful painting by a then obscure Aboriginal artist a few years ago. The artist was a lady called Selma Coulthard.

We liked the painting because we recognised that it was a 'mind map' of the artist's country in the West McDonnell Ranges, a place for which we have considerable affection.

Now, I am pleased to say that her work has justly been recognised as being of considerable artistic merit and commands very good prices in the art market.

The now wide recognition of the value and importance of Aboriginal art was only achieved through the persistent promotion of Aboriginal art and artists by what was originally only a handful of enthusiasts.

I feel sure that this will be the only way in which contemporary PNG art and artists will ultimately get the attention that they deserve.

So Hazel is right to be encouraging artists to put their work online and elsewhere in the public eye. Eventually, the best work will begin to attract attention, probably overseas before it does in PNG.

Once that happens and an embryonic market comes into existence, then PNG's best artists may begin to be able to sell their work and, perhaps, even make a living from it.

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