Rethinking women in PNG

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday, 27th May 2011

CONDITIONS of women in PNG is being displayed in an art exhibition at the National Library from May 19 to June 4.
The exhibition is organised by the Anthropology, Sociology and Archaeology strand of the University of PNG, the National Library with the support of the Delegation of the European Union to PNG.
The three organisations invited some of the prominent PNG artists to display their works relating to awareness of gender issues in PNG. The artists, in their previous and current works, have called for a redefinition of the role and identity of women, and they have been displaying their art work to foster such an undertaking.
The first version of the display was presented to the public on the occasion of Europe Day, May 9.
The exhibition started with a call for reflection (Alex Mebri) followed by an opening dance (Andrew Kaianu). The first section of the exhibition deals with contrasted views on modern PNG women.
Chris Kauage and John Danger are rethinking an iconographic view of women launched about 20 years ago by Matthias Kauage. In showing that modern women of PNG are divided between contemporary and tradition, both artists are advocating for more freedom to be given to women. For them men of this country shall acknowledge the contribution of women to the development of Papua New Guinea.
Eddie Tommy and Peter Leo Ella are proposing a more controversial vision of women. The impact of modernity is not without dramatic consequences. Many women are stressed between incompatible forms of commitments: towards their family and their aspiration for public and economic recognition. The group of graffiti artists invited by Peter Leo Ella is fully assuming new women’s role in society. In doing so, they demonstrate the view of PNG women to be part of the modern world.
A tribute to traditional women in PNG includes an important painting by Martin Morububuna who highlights the role of women as mothers. The painting is framed by paintings by Venantius Gadd and Joe Mek.
In the first Venantius Gadd is referring to mystical women in rituals of the region of Bogia, Madang. He reminds us of the many different roles performed by women in a local context. Joe Mek offers us an ideal and peaceful vision of women in a domestic context. The woman is here a mother, a daughter and a sister. This ideal vision of women is also depicted by the young artist Duru Kaianu where a woman is featured in an idealised landscape.
The next picture by Kawaiwan Yaipupu challenged the previous assumptions as a kind of disguised self portrait. She reminds us through her highly focused image of a woman that women stand for themselves. In this striking and vibrant picture she challenged that women are not only “in between” men. She feels that to be a woman today is a combination of modernity and tradition and it is that particular balance which gives women their strength and value.
The two last paintings by Jeffry Feeger and Ratoos are using subtle metaphor to question the role of women in PNG. For the first, the artist wonders about the future of women in confronting visitors to a monumental image of two young sisters. In showing a very immediate vision of modern girls from Bougainville he asks more general question about the context in which people built their future. The very large canvas proposed by Ratoos, an artist from Gulf is a general statement about women’s condition. For him, women are like turtles who dwell in the large ocean and never forget the place where they grew up.  He questions the facility of women to be everywhere and to build a home in every place. This metaphor is very suitable in modern PNG, a country where people have to find new homes and new identities and a changing context.
The artists are mindful of the fact that there are challenges and obstacles in achieving gender equality and they feel that they are the catalyst that will address those challenges and obstacles and to drive the gender equality agenda forward. Local artists have successfully articulated the national mood when they designed the Parliament House. They are now being called to articulate what is means to be a woman in PNG as a source of inspiration for the rest of the population.
Tomorrow there will be a Melanesian welcoming ceremony to welcome visitors whereby the artists and their families will bring traditional Melanesian food.
In doing so they would like to demonstrate their inscription at the heart of contemporary Papua New Guinean society. They also would like to perform through their gift of food and through the presentation of their artwork a blend of traditional practices and contemporary commitments.