Art from Papua New Guinea celebrated

Wendi Choulai, Papua New Guinea/Australia 1954–2001, Motu Koita people, Central Province / 105 Skirt 1996 / Mixed media, including sago palm fibre, raffia, recycled Sportsgirl plastic bags, plastics / © The artist / Courtesy: Aaron Choulai

The free opening program for No.1 Neighbour: Art from Papua New Guinea 1966–2016 at the Queensland Art Gallery this weekend will include a live acoustic performances by popular Tolai musician George Telek and Australian composer and producer David Bridie, artist and curator talks, a traditional sago cooking demonstration and more.

‘No.1 Neighbour’ demonstrates the Gallery’s commitment to the contemporary art and culture of the Pacific. This is the first major exhibition to focus entirely on art from Papua New Guinea and we welcome everyone to join us for the opening weekend.

At 11am on Saturday 15 October, Sean Dorney, Nonresident Fellow at the Lowy Institute and former ABC Pacific Correspondent, will lead a conversation with Papua New Guinea’s High Commissioner to Australia, His Excellency Charles Lepani.

At 2pm, the contemporary performance group Sunameke, led by ‘No. 1 Neighbour’ artist Julia Mage’au Gray, will present ‘Twist and Loop’. This specially commissioned performance will highlight a collection of fashion created by Florence Jaukae Kamel, who has transformed bilum-making techniques into clothing.

BLOG-George Telek
George Telek: still from West Papua Merdeka remix music video 2010 / Image: Charlie Hill-Smit., Courtesy: Wantok Musik Foundation

At 3.30pm, there will be a performance titled a Bit na Ta by revered Tolai musician George Telek, historian Gideon Kakabin and Australian composer and producer David Bridie. This performance describes the source of the sea in the Tolai language of East New Britain and is presented alongside an installation in the exhibition, which features sing sing tumbuna (ceremonial song), string band, lotu choir style and contemporary soundscapes that transpose a century of Tolai history into contemporary beats.


 ‘No.1 Neighbour’ considers Australia’s strong historical ties to its closest neighbour through some of the earliest works from Papua New Guinea acquired for the Gallery’s Collection, many of which have been collected through the Gallery’s flagship Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art exhibition series.

In addition to the spectacular Kwoma spirit house installation originally commissioned by the Gallery for ‘The 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ in 2012–13, the exhibition includes carvings, masks, shields, bilum (string bags), nioge (barkcloth), sculpture, photography, printmaking and painting.

Kwoma Arts, Papua New Guinea est. 2012 / Kwoma people, East Sepik Province / ‘No.1 Neighbour’ installation view of Koromb (spirit house) 2012 / Synthetic polymer paint, plywood, blackbutt, steel / Purchased 2012. Queensland Art Gallery / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artists / Photography: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

The exhibition explores the dynamism and strength of custom, the importance of sing-sing (performance) and the role of cultural shows in creating contemporary identities. It also considers the rich realm of storytelling, tensions between tradition and modernity, the strength of women’s voices, and the contemporary initiation processes of making men.

A richly illustrated hardcover publication accompanies the exhibition, with contributions from curator Ruth McDougall, Tolai artist and historian Gideon Kakabin, Manus Island musician John Faunt, and commentators Kiri Chan and Ruth Choulai, as well as numerous artist interviews.

‘No.1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966–2016’ is supported by the Gordon Darling Foundation and through the Australian Government through the Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.