QAGOMA’s Research Library is home to the documentation behind the Asia Pacific Triennial series of exhibitions, which forms the basis of the archives of the Australian Centre of Asia Pacific Art (ACAPA). Cataloguing and digitising the archive is no small task but one that will be worthwhile.
In preparation for ‘No.1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966–2016’, exhibition curator Ruth McDougall delved into 23 years of archival material and searched through the many hundreds of negatives, slides and photographic prints dating back to the first Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) in 1993, which fill 12 filing cabinet draws. These images are housed in the Special Collections room within the Gallery’s Research Library and form a major component of the ACAPA (Australian Centre of Asia Pacific Art) Archive.
An invaluable and unique visual reference for curators and researchers, the archive shows artists in their element: installing works, preparing for performances and events, at opening nights and artist parties, or helping Gallery curators to discover new works from across Asia, to be brought back to Australia for future exhibitions. Staging ‘No.1 Neighbour’ gave the Library the opportunity to source imagery relating to Papuan artists who had participated in past APTs.
Many hidden gems held in these cabinets were uncovered when viewing negatives over a light box, and provide an interesting picture of these artists and their works. They included a photograph of a painting by ‘No.1 Neighbour’ artist Joe Nalo (an inaugural APT participant) as well as a series of slides capturing Michael and Anna Mel preparing for their Ples Name! (Our Place!) performance for the APT2 opening weekend in 1996, images that will also appear in the exhibition. The Mels performed ceremonial dance rituals and displayed the traditional body paintings of the Hagan area in the Western Highland Provinces.
Wendi Choulai’s opening-weekend performance for APT2 blended a traditional ritual with a contemporary, artistic twist in the mourning dance Roiroipe. In it she wears black, the Western colour of mourning, with the Motu-Koita traditional dyed grass skirts. Captured by distinguished photographer Richard Stringer, these photographs reveal a pictorial story of Choulai’s performance and provide alternative views from the event video, which will play in the ‘No.1 Neighbour’ exhibition space and is also available on QAGOMA TV.
Collating, organising and documenting these images has been part of the Gallery’s Imaging Services project, initiated in 2015 by QAGOMA photographer Natasha Harth in collaboration with the Library. Thanks to this project and special assistance from volunteers including Gillian Jones, a recent Queensland College of Art photography graduate, all analogue photography from the first, second and third APTs will eventually be digitised.
The Library, together with Imaging Services, is working towards cataloguing and digitising all APT exhibition documentation — such as the performance images shown here — into one searchable archive, creating an accessible online home for the Gallery’s rich APT exhibition history.
This is an extract from the Gallery’s Artlines magazine available from the Gallery Store. Keep up to date with the Gallery’s seasonal publication delivered each quarter to QAGOMA Members.