By ALPHONSE BARIASI
TABAH Silau, one of Madang’s well known artists, was in the capital last week to retrieve a “stolen painting” he had done while a student at the National Arts School 43 years ago.
Incidentally, the said painting, titled Flutes of Maelwa, was believed to have been displayed at the National Capital District Governor’s Ball at the Stanley Hotel last month.
Silau recalls when he had parted with his work during his days at the National Arts School which is now part of the University of PNG.
“The painting was done during my second year at the National Arts School in 1977. It is as old as this country.
“This painting was exhibited with my other paintings towards the end of that year at the National Arts School Gallery in the ‘Two Men Student Exhibition – Tabah Silau and Manfred Wikeng Aseng’.
According to Silau, the director of the arts school then, a Tom Craig informed him after the exhibition that some artworks from students would be loaned to UPNG to decorate the Michael Thomas Somare Library and that artists would be paid annual rental fees by the university.
Silau never got around to collecting any rental fees from the university nor was he able to pursue and formalise such an arrangement. Besides, he had already left Port Moresby and returned home midway through his arts education.
He said this painting was one of those given and he has not been paid since 1978 until it disappeared to be in the possession of a former senior UPNG official.
“I consider that painting as being stolen. The National Museum and Art Gallery staff informed me that it was presented as a farewell gift to the official at the end of his term at UPNG. I could not confirm this,” Silau said.
However, Hillary Miria, curator of contemporary art at the NMAG, told The National on Tuesday he was not aware of any painting by Silau leaving the custody of the art gallery recently.
Silau was told that the painting had been displayed together with some other artwork at the ball and was taken back to city hall.
“The painting is now being stored at the city hall. I could not enter the display office to reclaim it as the office was closed on Wednesday last week – before it would be ‘stolen’ again by unauthorised claimants.
“The public should be advised to refrain from trading, negotiating and arrange the sales of this painting without a written consent of the artist,” Silau said.
Several attempts to speak to the events manager at the city hall were unsuccessful.
While in Port Moresby, Silau also met with other artists and formed an association known as the Tumbuna Visual Arts Association.
National Cultural Commission acting executive director Steven Kilanda presented a certificate to the association and indicated that the commission would be working together with the association host a national arts exhibition later in the year.
“Leading towards the national exhibition we feel that we should come up with small exhibitions every month for the association to showcase their products and skills,” said Kilanda.
“During those exhibitions the association will showcase, display and probably sell some of their products,” he said.
Association chairman Clement Koys said that any interested artist could join the association.
NCC believes that art industry has the potential to boost the economy of the country.
“There is money in it; Papua New Guineans don’t see it but tourists do,” said Kilanda.
Art curator Miria said an association like this would be a channel through which artists like Silau and others could market their work better or take up any grievances with relevant authorities in the event of unfair trade or breach of copyright, etc.
The NMAG has been advocating the formation of such a grouping to better serve the interests of visual artists, Miria said.
Silau has also recently published a collection of his poetry called Seeing Beyond My Eyes which is now being sold online by Amazon and AbeBooks.
The 99-page book of poems published by the UPNG Press will hopefully be launched in September.
Silau has asked the NCC to sponsor the launch of his book of poems which he said would coincide with an art exhibition.
“My meeting with the acting director lastWednesday has been appreciated and was worthwhile. If ever a sponsorship is being considered it would enable me to launch this book that would coincide with my biggest individual art exhibition in this country. It would feature a contemporary eight-member cultural group from Madang and is scheduled for September 2020.”
Silau’s work gained fame while he was still a student at Kerevat, East New Britain and later at the National Arts School in Port Moresby. His first ever exhibition was at the Rabaul Arts Society in 1975 during which he was acclaimed as one of the best PNG student entrants under 20.
He did not complete the arts course at the National Arts School but returned to Madang where continued painting and presented his works at various exhibitions both in PNG and abroad.
Highlights of his career include:
1977: Two man student exhibition at the National Arts School Gallery, Port Moresby
1979: Commissioned works for Sally and John Spira in Sydney, Australia
1985: Represented PNG at Exhibition of Pacific and Oceania Art Museum of French Polynesia/Group exhibition, 10th Anniversary of Independence – Tenpela Krismas – at the National Art School Gallery, Port Moresby
1990: Lukluk Gen exhibiton of contemporary art on tour of Australia, New Zealand and several Pacific Island states
1993: PNG artist in residence exhibition, NMAG, Port Moresby
1998: Work represented in the PNG Art Exhibition, Frankfurt Museum of Ethnology, Germany
1999: Toured and exhibited as a team in the PNG Investment Promotion Authority road show investment tour of Australia
2004: Group exhibition, Divine Word University, Madang
2005: Group exhibition, PNG Coffee Festival, Goroka
2006: Commissioned works for David Lawrence, New Zealand
2008: Group exhibition, University of Goroka Library/Featured artist, University of Hawaii Virtual Museum, East-West Centre Gallery.
Silau’s works are also found in the Hugh Stevenson Collection, Australia, the Michael Somare Library, UPNG, Regional Gallery, Townsville, Lokes de Beers Collection, Netherlands, Montana Esquillo Collection, Philippines, Jean-Marie Tjibour Cultural Centre, New Caledonia, and in private collections here and abroad.
The former director of the Madang Visitors and Cultural Bureau who also had a short stint as the member for South Amebenob constituency in the Madang provincial government, was born in 1957 at Umun village.
He attended Tusbab High School and Kerevat Senior High in pre-independence years and later studied at the National Arts School before withdrawing to pursue freelance art as The Brushman of the Bush.
He lives with his wife and three children at a Tusbab Beach home in Madang town and continues doing freelance work.