LIKE millions around the world Oro artist Onesmus Ugiobari is hoping that the pandemic and travel restrictions end soon so he is free to do things he likes doing. This yeart Ugiobari is looking forward to his first oversea trip and an exhibition at an aboriginal and western art gallery in London.
Ironically, he is set to visit London, England which has some of the most stringent travel restrictions in light of a new strain of the coronavirus identified there.
Ugiobari has been invited to go there to display his tapa art at the Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery. He would have gone last year had it not been for the global travel restrictions owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He has been producing tapa cloth since he was 20 and over the past few years he sold some of his work to buyers in Australia and to England.
He says that his tapa cloth designs are quite distinct from the more popular Tufi variety (common in the coastal Tufi are) and the Orokaiva “brand” (which is found in the immediate surrounds of Popondetta town and toward Kokoda.
Where Ugiabari comes from the mulberry tree bark cloth is produced as an art form as well as for more utilitarian purposes such as carry bags and as special-purpose garments.
He is a member of a cultural group that promotes local products both in the country and to overseas buyers. In recent times greater awarness about their products was made possible by an Australian agent who posted images online. That grabbed the attention of Australian-born, London-based aboriginal art enthusiast Rebecca Hossak.
In 2019 Hossack travelled from London to Ugiobari’s Savidobehi village in the Afore LLG of Ijivitari where he met the artist and his group.
Ugiobari is 47 years old now and has been producing tapa cloth since he was a single young man.
“At the age of 20, my mother taught me the art of making designs on tapa cloth.
My mother was born in 1942 during the war. When she was growing up, at the age of 15 her mother taught her how to beat tapa cloth and make designs. So my mother passed the skill of beating tapa and painting it into quality cloth to me. I grew up with the skills from my grandmother and mother.”
His mother’s art involved the use of traditional plant dyes to produce the primary colours of red, black and yellow found on the tapa cloth.
Apart from producing works of art, he also specialises in pieces such as ceremonial apparel for men and mud-dyed black cloth for use by menstruating women. Other types are used as carry bags with straps attached to them.
Promotion in Port Moresby
Ugiobari is currently in Port Moresby to display his work at various locations around the city.
He has already been to the Laguna Hotel art display and the Moresby Arts Theatre. He will next display his work for sale at the Holiday Inn craft market and the Ela Beach International School.
A relative, Nigel Kerua who resides at the ATS Block in National Capital District is taking him around the city to sell and promote his work. He has sold a number of his products in the first such exhibition and looks forward to more sales.
“This is my first time in the city and for these particular tapa products to be sold here,” Ugiobari says.
“Our people use the bark of the mulberry tree to make these tapa cloth. I learnt from my mother the skills required to make tapa cloth. In turn I’m teaching my own children this art form so that it is not lost and forgotten.
“There is a lot of interest from overseas, from people who know about the Afore tapa cloth art,” Ugiobari said.
He showed a sample of his mud-dyed tapa cloth and the spider-web designed tapa which can easily fetch up to K1,000 a piece.
“The spider web design is based on a legend among my people which speaks of a giant spider that killed people long ago. There are other designs such as the parrot beak, body tattoo, lizard jaw and the belly button,” he explains.
“The three colours (red, black and yellow) are made from natural pigments.
“A couple of years ago I sold my tapa cloth to Australia and England. Now I come to our nation’s capital to display my amazing tapa cloth.
“If anyone is interested in my art they can see me at the craft markets in the city.
“For more information they can call me on 74391255 or email email@example.com.”
Ugiobari will be accompanied by his manage Chris Diovi on the planned trip to London at the invitation of the Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery.
Tapa in the Pacific
Tapa cloth is known by a number of local names although the term tapa is international and understood throughout the Pacific islands that use the cloth.
Wikipedia says the word tapa is from Tahiti and the Cook Islands, where Captain Cook was the first European to collect it and introduce it to the rest of the world. In Tonga, tapa is known as ngatu, and here it is of great social importance to the islanders, often being given as gifts. In Samoa, the same cloth is called siapo, and in Niue it is hiapo. In Hawaii it is known as kapa. In Rotuma, a Polynesian island in the Fiji group, it is called ‘uha and in other Fiji islands it is called masi. In the Pitcairn islands it was called ahu, and in New Zealand as aute. It is also known as tapia.
“ The spider web design is based on a legend among my people, which speaks of a giant spider that killed people long ago. There are other designs such as the parrot beak, body tattoo designs, lizard jaw design and the belly button design.”
About Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery
Over the course of three decades Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery has built an international reputation for innovation, individuality, energy and excellence.
Hossack has been a great champion of non-western artistic traditions. Hers was the first art gallery in Europe to exhibit Australian aboriginal painting, and it continues to promote such work through its regular Songlines seasons. She has also curated important exhibitions of work from the Bushmen of the Kalahari, from Papua New Guinea, and from tribal India. Much of this art would simply not have been seen in the UK but for the Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery.
The Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery also exhibits across the broad spectrum of western contemporary art, while determinedly moving against some of the dominant currents of the modern art scene.
The director of two galleries in central London in Englands and Miami in the United States, Rebecca Hossack was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1955.
Following degrees in law and in history of art, Hossack studied at Christie’s and at The Guggenheim in Venice.
From 1993-7, Hossack served as the Australian cultural attaché in London, initiating literary links between Australian and British writers and organising a series of exhibitions of Australian art in London.
Her ‘unworthy predecessor’ Sir Les Patterson saluted her as ‘one beaut sheila’.
Ugiobari is excited that an artist of such international repute has shown an interest in her art.
That she had travelled all the way to Afore to meet him and his fellow villagers is special for Ugiobari.
It would be a huge break for the Afore tapa cloth man to exhibit his work in the Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery, which he is hoping will be this year – or whenever international travel becomes less restricted than it is at the moment.