The most populous tropical Pacific Island nation, with more than 750 languages, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has recently experienced strong economic growth—driven by resource extraction—yet the country still struggles with low development, abetted by corruption, poor governance and rapid population growth.
Although the state provides little support for the visual arts, the National Museum and Art Gallery in the capital Port Moresby maintains a repository of 55,000 anthropological and archaeological artifacts and 7,000 contemporary works. The exhibition “Built on Culture: Art of Papua New Guinea,” ran throughout the year, having opened in late 2015; at the opening, Deputy Head of Mission to Papua New Guinea Bronte Moules had unveiled a five-year redevelopment plan for the museum.
In the nonprofit sector, Gallery PNG, founded by artist Daniel Waswas, develops promising young indigenous talent with residencies and art classes. The special event, “PNG Art Evolution” (8/13–14), held at the Royal Papua Yacht Club, featured five artists—Andrew Santana, Jr, Albert Joseph, Philemon Yalamu, Pax Jakupa, Jr and Anderson Habiri—working in figurative and abstract styles.
In southeastern Milne Bay Province, the new Massim Museum and Cultural Centre opened in the main town of Alotau on November 4, housing three galleries, a performance space, a reference library and a small permanent collection of cultural objects, such as carvings. The artists association 28Kreativ, also based in Alotau, continues to host bi-monthly “Open Mic” events, featuring live orations, singing, music, poetry, painting and dance sessions, although, reportedly, most of their proposals were refused funding from the government.
In Australia, Brisbane’s Andrew Baker Art Dealer gallery exhibited the works of Bougainville-born artist Taloi Havini and Australian photographer Stuart Miller, which had focused on the generation in Bougainville who were children during the eastern autonomous region’s civil war (1988–98), a conflict triggered by landowner grievances about the environmental impacts of the then-foreign-owned Panguna copper mine. The gallery also hosted “Kamano Man” (10/19–11/19), a solo show of new work by veteran sculptor Ruki Famé featuring eloquent steel figurative and animal sculptures inspired by rural and urban life in Papua New Guinea.
The survey show, “No. 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966–2016” (10/15–1/29/17) was held at Brisbane’s Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). An epic showcase of the diverse expressions in the Melanesian country from the mid-1960s, through independence in 1975, to today, it included paintings by veteran artist Jakupa Ako and the late Mathias Kauage, textile art by Wendi Choulai and the bold multidisciplinary work of Australian-based Eric Bridgeman. Also at QAGOMA, the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (11/21/15–4/10) featured Taloi Havini, who exhibited her “Blood Generation” (2009–11) series of photographic portraits from Bougainville, and Yumi Danis (“We Dance”), a collaborative dance and music project involving performing artists from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
In Europe, “The Sacred Mountain Illuminated” (9/21–10/22), an exhibition of Tapa or barkcloth works featuring traditional motifs by the Omie women of Papua New Guinea’s Oro Province, was held at the Aboriginal Signature Gallery in Brussels, Belgium. Sepik art was the focus of “In the Footprint of the Crocodile Man” (3/1–1/31/17) at the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, which showcased 27 contemporary sculptural works made from traditional materials. In Victoria, British Columbia, the Alcheringa Gallery exhibited sculptural works from Sepik master carvers in “Navigating New Directions: Modern Masters of the Sepik River of Papua New Guinea” (3/12–4/13).
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