By ALPHONSE BARIASI
FOR any artist it is never a nice feeling when one’s prized work is taken at a bargain. It gets worse when the offered payment is not made after all.
Such was the case with Ben Lus who had woven a portrait of Prime Minister James Marape and taken it to the Sir Manasupe Haus at Waigani with the hope that it would be snapped up to grace a wall of the number one office.
The PM’s protocol staff took the portrait measuring roughly 1.5m x 1m and told the artist that he would be paid later.
But two weeks later he was told that payment had not been approved so he had better take back his work. Lus, however, insisted that they keep the portrait and pay him as he really wanted his work to be in the PM’s office.
That was in October last year. After inquiring at the PM’s office time and again over the course of the past year, Lus finally gave up and reclaimed his artwork last week when told again that there was no way he could be paid.
“I was told that the authorising officer there had refused to approve payment for my work,” an upset Lus told The National last Friday when he showed up with the woven art.
Lus had issued an invoice for K6,535 but he was offered only K3,500, then that figure was further reduced to K2,500 which he grudgingly accepted.
When he fronted up one last time last week, he was given the final word that he was not going to be paid so he took back his work.
The 43-year-old father of two from Mendi, Southern Highlands who resides at 2-Mile in NCD, is an ex-convict who had spent 11 years in the Boram Jail in Wewak, East Sepik. That was where he visualised his art form.
“When I was in prison, I kept imagining how I would use needles and yarn to produce art. When I got out of prison, I started on my artwork and was quite surprised at the how successfully I did portraits and bilums.
“My bilums are quite stylish,” he boasted.
He uses acrylic wool to weave pictures against backing material which is usually old stock feed bags.
The results are stunning and the viewer might be fooled into believing paint was used. Instead the artist uses ornate technique to weave true-to-life images.
He had previously woven portraits of some of Port Moresby’s famous and not-so-famous faces and the subjects of his art happily paid for his work.
“I’ve done portraits of Justin Tkatchenko, Powes Parkop, Sir Michael Somare, Peter O’Neill and Dairi Vele, among others including church pastors who had also engaged me to do their portraits. All those works have been paid for,” he said proudly.
Last October he decided to do a portrait of Marape using K250 worth of acrylic wool. With the help of his wife, Lus set to work and completed it in two weeks.
Happy with his work, he took it to the PM’s office where the protocol staff took it and locked it away.
“I don’t think the PM has seen the artwork. When I went there to take it back this week, they took it out from a storage area and gave it to me,” Lus said.
The PM’s protocol office reported that they could not pay for the picture because Lus’s claim had not been approved by the PM’s departmental financial delegate.
An official said their office did not have financial powers to make payments; that was the departmental (PM&NEC) head’s prerogative.
Lus argued that as a self-employed father producing such artwork and bilums was his main source of income and it was quite disheartening to be simply refused payment for his work which would have made a distinctive addition to other artworks or portraits adorning the PM’s office.
In a last ditch bid to make a sale, Lus said he was going over to see Rachel Marape at her eatery somewhere in the city hoping she would fall for the image a bit like she had years ago for the man!
He did not call as agreed to let us know if he had made that sale.
Honoured for loyal service PNG