East Sepik artists hang up in Queensland

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday 03rd Febuary 2012

BY the time you read this, 10 artists from East Sepik province are in Australia to produce art from the province.
The 10 artists -three from Abelam and seven from Kwoma –  travelled to Brisbane on Tuesday last week to create new work based on the art found in their ceremonial men’s houses. 
From Abelam are Kiawalli Nikif, Nera Waikua and Loltai Kono; while from Kwoma are Simon Goiyap, Terry Parkiey, Rex Maukos, Antonius Waiawas, Nelson Makamoi, Jamie Jimok and Kevin Apsepa.
It is indeed a breath of fresh air, especially after all the bad news and politics of late, with people saying that there is no such thing as good news from Papua New Guinea.
They were farewelled at a function at the house of Australian High Commissioner to PNG, Ian Kemish, on Monday last week.
The talk was all about art, art and more art, especially of the East Sepik province, however, the 10 artists were also told of Australian art.
It all started in July 2011 when Ruth McDougall, curator of Pacific Art and Michael O’Sullivan, exhibitions manager, Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, travelled to East Sepik with PNG-born architect Martin Fowler to research the ceremonial men’s houses created by Abelam and Kwoma artists.
This research forms part of the development of a major project at the gallery, which explores ideas of the ‘ephemeral’ in contemporary art created in PNG.
The East Sepik structures were specifically chosen – along with the mask cultures of New Britain and the contemporary art of Asmat artists in Papua – because of their powerful visual impact, the continuing strength of ‘kastom’, and the structures’ ephemeral nature.
McDougall, O’Sullivan and Fowler visited villages in the areas surrounding Maprik and travelled up the Sepik River to Tongwinjamb, Mino and Yessan to view the men’s houses and meet with artists and community elders.
During this travel, groups of Kwoma, Abelam and Arapesh artists also participated in an art workshop based at the Ilahita guesthouse, with materials supplied by the Queensland Art Gallery.
As a result of these visits and works gathered as part of the artist workshop, two projects were identified as potential major commissions for the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, as part of the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art exhibition.
In November 2011, McDougall and Fowler returned to the Abelam village of Brikiti and to the Kwoma villages of Tongwinjamb and Mino to finalise the selection of artists, talk to community leaders and commission a total of 19 artists to create major works for the Gallery of Modern Art. 
For nine of these artists, this project represents their first opportunity for international travel.
The artists will live in Brisbane for a period of six to eight weeks, and during their time there will have a dedicated workshop facility for carving and painting.
The Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art is greatly honoured to have these artists visit Brisbane to create work of such cultural significance. 
Chris Karis, director of Sepik tourism company PNG Frontier Adventures, which worked together with the gallery to make the trip possible, said it would be a great way to promote Sepik art as well as tourism
“We have more than 800 different languages and cultures in PNG,” he says.
“If you are a Papua New Guinean, you must teach your children about your culture.
“We must support and encourage this, so that the world can come to PNG and see our different cultures.
“I know the visit of the 10 artists will have a big impact.
“They will also learn many new things.”
Australian High Commissioner to PNG, Ian Kemish, concurs.
“For a group of artists to come from the Sepik, to represent PNG in Australia, em bikpela samting,” he says.
“We’re very glad that you’re going and wish you all the best.
“I hope you come back inspired by interaction with other cultures.”
Group leader Antonius Waiawas says this will be his first trip to Australia, however, he undertook a similar trip to Japan in 2000.
“This is my first time to go to Australia,” he says.
“I went to Japan in a similar trip in 2000, where I taught Japanese children about PNG culture.
“We want Sepik art to be promoted in Brisbane.
“I will personally go out of my way to promote Sepik art there.
“We are marketing our cultures.
“The country will benefit.”
Promising young artist, Kevin Apsepa, says our culture will not die with such initiatives.
“I’m a carver, painter and also do other small arts and crafts,” he says.
“We are promoting our culture with such initiatives.
“I strongly believe that our culture will not die.”

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