PNG art celebrated in major Queensland Art Gallery exhibition

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 (QAG).

The event is held from October 15 to January 29, 2017.

QAGOMA Director Chris Saines CNZM said ‘No.1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966–2016' would delight audiences with bold colour, towering sculptural forms, humour and hauntingly beautiful sounds.

“This is the first time QAGOMA 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 series,” Saines said.

In addition to bilas (ornamentation) and masks used in singsing (gatherings of the tribes to share cultural traditions) ‘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 Sir George Telek, with the involvement of the wider Tolai community based in East New Britain.

The Gallery’s Curator of Pacific Art, Ruth McDougall, said audiences would 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.

McDougall said other highlights would include a new multimedia installation by Australian-born Chimbu artist Eric Bridgeman, focus 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 for ‘The 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ in 2012–13.

“The Koromb (spirit house) 2012 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 via an Australian administration in PNG,” McDougall explained.

“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,” McDougall said.

“A group of Tolai Tokatokoi (headdresses) 2011, with the traditional ancestor figure replaced with images of the Virgin Mary, and a Sepik sculpture titled 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 Choulai, the Ömie people, Florence Jaukae-Kamel, Lisa Hilli, Julia Mage’au Gray, Taloi Havini and senior potter Gole.

'No.1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966–2016’ is supported by the Gordon Darling Foundation and through the Australian Government through the Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

(Setting up the ‘No. 1 Neighbour’ exhibition.)

Press release