Hey sis


Since the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) began in 1993, the series has been celebrated for its engagement with Aotearoa New Zealand and the wider Pacific. Through the APT, the Gallery has built a collection of vibrant works by Pacific women artists. A significant number of these have been acquired through generous bequests made by two women: Jennifer Phipps (1944–2014) and Jennifer Taylor (1935–2015). Staged in two rotations in the upper galleries of the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), ‘sis: Pacific Art 1980–2023’ is the latest in a series of exhibitions1 to profile and celebrate the depth of this important area of the Collection.

Joyce Mary Arasepa Gole Ol ‘ Cooking pot’ 1997 

Joyce Mary Arasepa Gole Ol, Orokaiva people, Papua New Guinea b.1941 / Cooking pot 1997 / Hand-thrown earthenware with incised decoration and beeswax / 28.2 x 36.5 x 37.5cm / Purchased 2011. QAG Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Joyce Mary Arasepa Gole OL

In 2016, retired National Gallery of Victoria curator Jennifer Phipps made a significant bequest to QAGOMA to establish the Oceania Women’s Fund and support the ongoing development of women artists’ practices in the Pacific.2 Phipps was moved to this action through her close friendship with her colleague, Bougainville-born curator Sana Balai, and her own involvement with artists and women from this much overlooked region. As Balai has more recently shared, ‘we don’t see much contemporary art from outside of the Polynesian centres in Aotearoa New Zealand in our Galleries here, let alone the work of women from the “islands”’.3 Together with a bequest received in the same year from Australian architect, professor, critic and author Jennifer Taylor, the Oceania Women’s Fund has consolidated an already strong commitment within QAGOMA to acquiring and profiling the diversity of Pacific women’s practices across the region.

Kapulani Landgraf ‘Au‘a’ 2019

Kapulani Landgraf, Kanaka ‘Ōiwi, Hawai‘i b.1966 / ‘Au‘a (detail) 2019 / Digital prints on aluminium, with sound / 108 sheets: 75 x 50cm (each) / Purchased 2019 with funds from the Bequest of Jennifer Taylor through the QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Kapulani Landgraf

Featuring 162 works by 30 artists, the first rotation of ‘sis: Pacific Art 1980–2023’ reflects on practices of women from Hawai’i, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Tonga, Vanuatu, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and their diasporas. Bringing together works by internationally celebrated figures Latai Taumoepeau, Taloi Havini, Kapulani Landgraf and Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner alongside artists from the island communities ‘back home’, this display introduces audiences to the deep sense of attachment and responsibility that each woman has to their land, community and culture.

Susan Jieta ‘(Jaki-ed)’ 2017

Susan Jieta, Republic of the Marshall Islands b.c.1972 / (Jaki-ed) 2017 / Mat: woven pandanus fibre with natural dyes / 81.5 x 105.9cm / Purchased 2018 with funds from the Oceania Women’s Fund through the QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Susan Jieta

Although seeming quiet in their presentation, the revival of knowledge associated with the patterns in woven pandanus Jaki-ed mats, created by Marshallese artists such as Susan Jieta, makes them as deliberate and as powerful as the compelling performance poetry of their ‘sister’, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, in their response to the loss of sovereignty over land and culture resulting from histories of conflict, colonialism, nuclear testing and climate change. Like Jetñil-Kijiner, Jieta and her fellow Jaki-ed weavers spend hours deeply focused — in a time of peril — on the creation of symbols of cultural resilience.

Such perils for Pacific peoples, specifically those facing the immediate and dramatic effects of climate change, are also addressed by Tongan Punake4 Latai Taumoepeau, who uses her own body in a series of durational performances. Documented through video, Taumoepeau’s works viscerally evoke the interdependence of Pacific peoples and their environment. In Repatriate 2015, for example, we witness the artist in a glass tank desperately trying to perform a tau’olunga (Tongan dance) as the enclosure slowly fills up with water. As we watch the artist’s desperate efforts to maintain her movements against the force of the water, the labour required of Pacific peoples in the face of rising sea levels and catastrophic weather events is brought home.

Employing an array of approaches across photography, video installation, ceramics and sound, the work of Bougainville-born Taloi Havini speaks to the importance, more particularly, of women’s labour as well as their matrilineal connections to land. The elegant sculptural form of Beroana (shell money) II 2016 is inspired by the long strands of shells (known as beroana) created by women for use in ceremonial exchanges, including weddings, reconciliations and funerals. Comprising over a thousand hand-formed stoneware porcelain and earthenware ‘shells’, hung to replicate the shape of the open-pit Panguna mine in Central Bougainville, Beroana (shell money) II contrasts the once-robust economy of Havini’s people — grounded in labour and respectful interactions with their environment — with the destruction, displacement and conflict of global extractivism. 5

Bernice Akamine ‘Hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) (Sea hibiscus)’ 2006

Bernice Akamine, Kanaka ‘Ōiwi, Hawai‘i b.1949 / From ‘Nā Waiho‘olu‘u Hawai‘i, The colors of Hawai‘i’ series: Hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) (Sea hibiscus) 2006 / Cotton with cotton thread on cotton with natural plant dye / 42 x 43.8cm / Purchased 2019 with funds from the Bequest of Jennifer Taylor through the QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Bernice Akamine

Similarly concerned with the impacts of development and extraction, Kanaka ‘Öiwi artist Bernice Akamine documents endangered native plants in her homeland of Hawai’i, using knowledge handed down from her grandmother to create natural dyes resulting in subtly coloured fabrics, then intricately embroidering portraits of each plant on them.6In doing so, Akamine references how Hawaiian women have maintained important Indigenous cultural practices, values and knowledge by innovatively adopting and transforming the techniques and artforms introduced by the wives of Western missionaries.

In the second chapter of the exhibition, opening in late March 2024, ‘sis’ continues sharing artworks and practices that negotiate the impact of Western values, ideas and encounters on the peoples and cultures of the Pacific. Drawing together works from Aotearoa New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia, the Cook Islands and Tahiti, this display explores the many ways in which Pacific women continue to respond to the changes these histories have brought.

Lisa Reihana ‘Mahuika’ 2001

Lisa Reihana, Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngai Tūteauru, Ngāi Tūpoto, Aotearoa New Zealand b.1964 / Mahuika (from ‘Digital Marae’) 2001 / Colour cibachrome photographs mounted on aluminium and DVD: 3:30 minutes, colour, sound / Two photographs: 200 x 100 x 0.35cm (each); two photographs: 200 x 120 x 0.35cm (each); one photograph: 140 x 120 x 0.35cm / Purchased 2002 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Lisa Reihana

The work of Māori artist Lisa Reihana uses lens-based media to rethink moments of encounter, privileging the histories and perceptions of Pacific peoples. One of the legacies of the European voyages of discovery and subsequent colonisation of Aotearoa has been the diminishment of traditional leadership roles for women and the demonisation of female ancestor figures ostensibly driven by Christian values and ideas. In her 2001 – series ‘Digital Marae’, Reihana reasserts the significance of goddesses such as Hinepūkohurangi and Mahuika, using new technologies to position them alongside their male counterparts as foundational supports within the sacred Māori architectural space of the marae.

Responding to the lack of respect expressed towards contemporary Melanesian women, Mekeo artist Julia Mage’au Gray’s work focuses on the importance of cultural tattoos or marks, created and worn by women as a symbol of strength and body sovereignty. The difficult, collective journey of re-awakening cultural practices, and banned by Christian missionaries, is honoured in the installation From old to new old 2023 created by Gray along with a core group of four Papua New Guinean women who have travelled with her.7

Rosanna Raymond ‘Backhand Maiden’ 2015

Rosanna Raymond (Artist/FAB.ricator), Salagi: Aotearoa New Zealand, Samoan, Tuvaluan, Gaelic, Norse, SaVĀge K’lub, Pacific Sisters, Haumanu, Aotearoa New Zealand b.1967 / Ngila Dickson (Co-FAB.ricator), Aotearoa New Zealand b.1958 / Backhand Maiden 2015 / Niu Aitu (new spirit): Fijian masi kesa (stencilled barkcloth) and masi vulavula (white masi) (donated to the artist by Katrina Igglesden); pig’s tusk, seeds, cord, ed.1/3 / Purchased 2022 with funds from the Bequest of Jennifer Taylor through the QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Rosanna Raymond

Inspired by the undiminishable spirit of Pacific heroines such as Purea, Tevahine-‘ai-roro-atuai-Ahurai, the self-proclaimed ‘Queen of Tahiti’, Aotearoa New Zealand-born Rosanna Raymond creates avatars whom she then introduces into the very colonial infrastructure of Western museums and exhibition events.8 Raymond’s Backhand Maiden 2015– enters these museum contexts to explore ideas of ‘conser.VA.tion’, comprising an Edwardian-style dress made from Fijian masi (barkcloth). Throwing away the white gloves, Raymond asserts the genealogical links between her ‘Pacific’ body and these objects, donning Backhand Maiden and stressing the ways in which this avatar’s interactions brings back warmth and life force to the cold and forgotten taonga (treasures).

Tungane Broadbent ‘Tairiiri (fan)’ 2005–06

Tungane Broadbent, Cook Islands b.1940 / Tairiiri (fan) 2005–06 / Tivaevae, manu style quilt: commercial cotton cloth and thread in appliqué technique / 192 x 229cm / Commissioned 2005 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Tungane Broadbent

The elegance of Cook Islander women dancing with fans is evoked in the dazzling cutout patterning of Tungane Broadbent’s tivaevae in Tairiiri (fan) 2005–06. As with the traditional creation of Cook Islander barkcloth and woven mats, the quilted tivaevae are also constructed from multiple layers. Created to be used, gifted and exchanged within in ceremonies accompanying rites of passage, tivaevae are one of the most important forms of aesthetic and cultural expression for Cook Islander women. Highly valued, tivaevae are yet another instance of Pacific women self-consciously using new technologies — in this case, sewing — in the maintenance and expression of their vibrant culture.

Works in ‘sis’ contribute towards the development of more nuanced understandings of Pacific cultures and traditions, and of how histories of colonisation have played out in unique ways for individuals and communities across the region. Another objective of  the exhibition is to broaden perceptions of gender, including teasing them out through engagement with artists with ancient gender roles, such as Lehuauakea, a māhū from Hawai’i, and Yuki Kihara, a fa’afafine from Samoa. Many Pacific Island countries have designations that acknowledge non-binary gender identifications: Māhu (Hawai’i), Vakasalewalewa (Fiji), Palopa (Papua New Guinea), Fa’afafine (American Samoa and Samoa), Akava’ine (Cook Islands), Fakafifine (Niue), Fakaleiti/Leiti (Tonga). Rather than seek an elevated status for women, the exhibition seeks to champion agency, respect and empowerment for all genders.

We hope that visitors to ‘sis’ are inspired by the amazingly diverse and vibrant ways in which Pacific women seek to engage in histories and issues that we all, in some way, share. With warmth and generosity, the exhibition offers a deeper understanding of the work that our Pacific sisters have taken on, redressing past wrongs while creatively engaging in new conversations about the world and our place in it. Like its title, the works in ‘sis’ are generous, inclusive and relational, and through them, the artists point to our shared responsibility for creating a future of responsible stewardship.

Latai Taumoepeau ‘Dark Continent’ 2018

Latai Taumoepeau (Artist), Tongan people, Australia b.1972 / Zan Wimberley (Photographer), Australia b.1986 / Dark Continent 2018 (Performance documentation) / Digital print on paper ed. 1/3/ 118.9 x 84.1cm (sheet) / Purchased 2018 with funds from the bequest of Jennifer Taylor through the QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Latai Taumoepeau

Ruth McDougall is Curator, Pacific Art, QAGOMA. She led the ‘sis’ curatorial team of Ruha Fifita, Curatorial Assistant, Pacific Art, and curatorial volunteers Moale James and Emily Nguyen-Hunt.

The exhibition publication sis: Pacific Art 1980-2023 is available at QAGOMA Stores and online.

1 Curated by Maud Page, ‘Islands Beats’ opened at QAG in 2003 and featured textiles by Pacific women in Australia and Aotearoa. Celebrating the significance of textile practices on the islands of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Tahiti and Hawai’i, and built on ‘Island Beats’, the ‘Pacific Textiles Project’ was a highlight of APT5 (2006). Staged in the upstairs galleries of GOMA, ‘Threads: Contemporary Textiles and the Social Fabric’ (2011) brought the vibrant textiles of Pacific women into conversation with equally significant practices from Asia and Australia.
2 See https://www.artlink.com.au/articles/4266/jenniferphipps-1944E280932014/, accessed May 2023.
3 Sana Balai, ‘Women’s Wealth’, APT9 Interlocutors presentation, GOMA, Brisbane, November 2017.
4 Punake is a term used in Tonga to describe a body-centred performance artist.
5 The Panguna mine in Central Bougainville was the catalyst for a decade-long civil war in Bougainville and caused immense environmental damage to the surrounding river systems and land, with the rivers being used for the disposal of toxic mine-tailings. While the mine delivered immense wealth to the PNG government and foreign investors in the parent company Rio Tinto, landowners received little renumeration.
6 Akamine is considered a kumu (teacher) of waiho’olu’u (Indigenous plant-dyeing)
7 Commissioned for ‘sis’, From old to new old 2023 involves Ranu James, Moale James, Katrina Sonter and Vasa Gray. 8 Purea was the high chieftainess of the Landward Teva Tribe of Tahiti and became famous during the first European expeditions to Tahiti. The lover of Tahitian navigator Tupia, Purea was the self-proclaimed ruler of all Tahiti.

sis: Pacific Art 1980–2023’ is in the Marica Sourris and James C. Sourris AM Galleries (3.3 & 3.4), GOMA, from 26 August until 8 September 2024.

Featured image: Latai Taumoepeau (Artist), Tongan people, Australia b.1972 / Zan Wimberley (Photographer), Australia b.1986 / Dark Continent (detail) 2018 / Four digital prints on paper / 3: 118.9 x 84.1cm; 1: 236 x 168cm / Purchased 2018 with funds from the Bequest of Jennifer Taylor through the QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Latai Taemoepeau


Installation of 350 cables imagine rain when caught by sunlight


Kaili Chun is a Kanaka Öiwi artist who lives in the Hawaiian city of Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, the place of her ancestors. Chun is close to her Hawaiian family and holds great respect for the knowledge and values she has inherited, including a strong sense of love and responsibility towards the environment in which she lives. Naturally beautiful, Honolulu has been heavily impacted by development, agriculture, aquaculture, militarism and tourism. Chun’s artistic practice responds to this through sculpture and large-scale installations that are often site-specific and involve community in creative dialogues around the significance of healthy land and waters, and how we may live with a greater awareness of our relationship to these vital sources of life.

Watch | Installation time-lapse

Kaili Chun / APT10 site-specific installation Uwē ka lani, Ola ka honua (When the heavens weep, the earth lives) 2021

Commissioned for ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10), Chun created an elegant installation, Uwē ka lani, Ola ka honua (When the heavens weep, the earth lives) 2021, comprising more than 350 stainless-steel cables that imagine rain as it appears when caught by sunlight slanting through the environment. Writing of the inspiration for Uwē ka lani, Ola ka honua, Chun shares:

Once, in a dream about rain, I saw vibrancy where there was an abundance of this life-giving element and desolation in its absence. For some, it is a simple description of the cycle between heaven and earth. But to Hawaiians, Uwē ka lani, Ola ka honua is so much more. Rain was always seen as a blessing from na Akua (gods). When rain falls, the rivers and streams are full of fresh drinkable water, the lo’i (taro patches) and various plots of food sources are full and thriving. When the earth is healthy, we too are healthy. This is our traditional belief: that water is not simply water, but that it is sacred. It is the water of life, ka wai a Kâne, and we are connected to it — body and soul.1

‘Uwē ka lani, Ola ka honua’ is an Ōlelo No’eau (Hawaiian proverb), which recognises the interconnectedness between all living things. Physically connecting the heavens to the earth, each strand of Chun’s installation holds within it a drop-like capsule of water collected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants from around Australia. Chun acknowledges and engages with the Traditional Owners of the lands on which her work is created and presented in order to establish a conversation around Indigenous knowledge and stewardship of land, sea and sky.

Explore the map and tap the pins for information about the vials and the water contained within them

The project involves individuals whose Country covers vast expanses of fresh and salt water alongside those whose water sources are — or have become — scarce. The work articulates not only the vast diversity of environments that exist across the many Indigenous nations of Australia, but also the deep ties that exist between this resource and the participants’ understandings of self and place. The sharing of traditional names and words about water enables audiences to also develop greater understandings of the deep scientific knowledge these participants have of these environments.

Kaili Chun ‘Uwē ka lani, Ola ka honua (When the heavens weep, the earth lives)’ 2021

Kaili Chun, Kanaka Ōiwi people, Hawai‘i b.1962 / Uwē ka lani, Ola ka honua (When the heavens weep, the earth lives) (and detail) 2021 / Site-specific installation with stainless steel, plexiglass, water, digital interactive and fourchannel soundscape: 20 minutes (looped) / Commissioned for ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT10). Purchased 2022. QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Kaili Chun / Photographs: N. Harth © QAGOMA

In gentle conversation with the stories held within each capsule is a soundtrack developed by the artist in response to the different water environments she feels connected to in her own homeland. Playing across four speakers on the edges of the installation, the soundscape moves across and through the work in waves to be discovered and received by the audience as they move in and around the slanting cables. Chun states:

The underlying concept of this piece is the importance of water — whether wai (fresh), kai (ocean) or ua (rain) — and its embodiment of who we are as human beings — as connector or divider, healer or destroyer, purifier or putrefier. Our bodies are made with water and sustained by water, but unlike water we have the choice between unifying or separating, building ordemolishing, cleansing or soiling. Ours is a choice to serve ourfellow humans, steward our fragile environment and follow Ke Akua, our living God.2

Kaili Chun’s installation poetically reveals the deep respect its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants have for different sources of water, together with the vital importance of honouring the wisdom this connection and understanding have created.

Ruth McDougall is Curator, Pacific Art, QAGOMA
This is an edited extract from the QAGOMA publication The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art available in-store and online from the QAGOMA Store.

1 Kaili Chun, email to the author [artist statement], 10 November 2020.
2 Chun.

The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10) / Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane / 4 December 2021 to 25 April 2022.


15-metre-long bamboo raft references traditional Fijian watercraft


Salote Tawale was born in Fiji and grew up in suburban Melbourne, and works across media to explore and comment on experiences of dislocation specific to living and working as an intersectional person in Australia. A queer woman of colour, Tawale views all of her works — whether they are representational or not — as self-portraits through which she directs and controls her image, its context, use and distribution. From video performances to sculptural objects, she presents her image as intentionally performative, slipping around and between fixed categories of being, and playfully unsettling ideas of authenticity and homogeneity. A warm sense of humour and humility pervades much of Tawale’s work as she self-reflexively creates new spaces of possibility and belonging within the myriad cultures in which she resides.

Watch | Salote discusses ‘No Location’

No Location 2021 is the latest in a series of installations in which Tawale uses materials instead of her body to perform her identity for her. Taking the form of a 13.5 metre-long raft made from pliable lengths of bamboo and lashed together with recycled bedsheets and rope, the work is inspired by HMS No Come Back — a similarly scaled river craft whose construction was documented for the Fiji Museum in Suva, which Tawale first viewed during a visit to the museum on a childhood trip ‘home’.1 The artist recounts her immediate sense of connection to this boat, which she imagined would provide the perfect vessel for a person divided between Australia and Fiji to inhabit.

Watercraft like HMS No Come Back are known in Fiji as bilibili and were traditionally created to move people and goods from the interior of Fiji down river to the sea. Constructed from bamboo and other readily available materials, bilibili were relatively easy to construct, and light and flexible enough to move through rapids and over obstacles in the river. At the end of each journey, having served its purpose, the bilibili would be deconstructed and the materials that had been difficult to source or were labour-intensive would be kept and recycled in future vessels, while the rest was returned to the natural environment.

Salote Tawale ‘No Location’ (conceptual image) 2021

Salote Tawale, Fiji/Australia b.1976 / No Location (conceptual image) 2021 / Composite digital image / © Salote Tawale

Salote Tawale ‘No Location’ installation

Salote Tawale, Fiji/Australia b.1976 / No Location (installation) 2021 / Bamboo, nylon rope, cotton, polycarbonate, sheeting, tarpaulin and found objects / 300 x 240 x 1350cm (approx.) / Commissioned for ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT10). Purchased 2021 with funds from the Jennifer Taylor Bequest through the QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane / This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, and the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian State and Territory Governments / © Salote Tawale

The knowledge of place and inherent sustainability embedded in the design and construction of these vessels impressed Tawale as a possible model for how she could also respond to, and survive, the precarious conditions that climate change and a global pandemic have wrought on our place and time. Constructed with the same attitude towards using readily available and recyclable materials, and yet uniquely adapted for Tawale herself, No Location 2021 features used tarps, bedsheets and rope alongside locally sourced bamboo. A range of objects necessary for ‘living’ are installed on the vessel, carefully selected and placed to evoke the presence and specificity of the artist’s body and personal history. These items include solar panels, clothing, an iPad (so Tawale can watch her favourite English crime shows) a barbeque and a deflated air mattress.

By embodying everyday contemporary materials, Tawale can create and shape new forms and interpretations that relate directly to her experience and identity; No Location’s DIY, makeshift, camping aesthetic speaks to the artist’s need to ‘shift and constantly reshape her cultural slippage’.2

Ruth McDougall is Curator, Pacific Art, QAGOMA

1 The HMS No Come Back is a bilibili in the collection of the Fiji Museum, Suva. See ‘The Making of the HMS No Come Back’,
The Fiji Museum – Virtual Museum, <http://virtual.fijimuseum.org.fj/template.php?id=DB04>, and ‘HMS No Come Back’, The Fiji Museum – Virtual Museum, <http://virtual.fijimuseum.org.fj/template.php?id=DHMS>, viewed 9 June 2021.
2 Salote Tawale, ‘Introduction’, Salote Tawale [artist book], Arts NSW, Sydney, 2017, p.2.

The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10) / Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). APT10 was at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane from 4 December 2021 to 25 April 2022.


Uramat Mugas: Uramat Story Songs


Developed in collaboration with Papua New Guinea’s Indigenous Uramat Identity group for ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10), the Uramat Mugas (Uramat Story Songs) project immerses the viewer in the mysteries of Uramat ceremony while fostering deeper cultural understanding.

The days begin early in Gaulim, the bustling village in East New Britain’s Baining mountains that the Indigenous Uramat clan calls home. When I wake in a small hut on a visit there in 2019, the world is particularly saturated with sound: raucous cicadas and roosters lead an acapella chorus.1 Small children living nearby — in ply- and iron-walled, village-built dwellings — join in with their patter of laughter and sibling arguments. From the road close by, women carrying swollen bilum (bags) full of produce from their gardens emit a cloud of rhythmic easy chatter as they walk in small groups to the morning market.

Cocoa rehabilitation, Gaulim, East New Britain / Photograph: Gideon Kakabin / Image courtesy: Judy Kakabin

Developed in collaboration with the Indigenous Uramat Identity, the APT10 project Uramat Mugas (Uramat Story Songs) seeks to bring some of this context into audience experiences of this cultural group’s contemporary expression of customary art. Flowing out of a gift of over 70 performance objects and masks — made to the Gallery by the Uramat clan of Gaulim and Wunga villages through the late Gideon Kakabin in 2017–18 — Uramat Mugas moves the focus away from a purely visual appreciation of the spectacular sculptural and graphic qualities of the masks and their decoration. Nuanced experiences of sound, texture, colour, movement, space and time are all essential to the ways in which Uramat Mugas seeks to communicate the dynamic ceremonial world that these spirit images inhabit, as well as the deeper ways in which these figures continue to guide contemporary Uramat life and worldviews.

Lazarus Eposia with QAGOMA conservator Elizabeth Thompson, Brisbane, January 2020 / Photograph: Joe Ruckli © QAGOMA

Uramat Mugas (Uramat Story Songs) testing, The Block, QUT, July 2020 / Image courtesy: Dr Keith Armstrong

Under the direction of the Indigenous Uramat Identity, a large team comprising staff from QAGOMA and Queensland University of Technology, School of Creative Practice worked with artist and QUT Senior Lecturer Dr Keith Armstrong and musician David Bridie to imagine and realise a more ambitious and immersive installation. The partnership saw the implementation of a sophisticated technical solution created in collaboration with Queensland University of Technology, School of Creative Practice, including Lecturer and Producer Joanne Kenny and Senior Theatre Technician Harley Coustley. Entering the space, audiences will find themselves in a room inhabited by five different types of masks, created for the day ceremonies that the Uramat conduct to celebrate the end of a harvest period or the launch of a new enterprise.2 You weave your way around long drapes of fibrous backcloth used to create the masks.

Poetic edits of video footage of the ceremonial preparations associated with the masks, which the Uramat documented for the project, play across a range of different sized and textured screens.3 More significantly we are immersed in the sounds of the village as it prepares: the lyrical lilt of the Uramat tok ples (Ura language), the soft hum of the surrounding forest and the mugas (story songs) that are sung for the dances in more guttural tones by Uramat men. Threading all of this together are the sonorous beats of the bamboo orchestra — a thrum that echoes through the hollow bamboo as it is slammed rhythmically against a timber plank on the ground.

Uramat Sivirihtki dance, Gaulim, 2016 / Photograph: Gideon Kakabin / Image courtesy: Judy Kakabin

The responsibilities that accompany custodianship of the gifted Uramat masks were a major impetus for the development of this APT project. All staff working on Uramat Mugas have acquired a much deeper understanding of the cultural protocols that surround different masks, as well as the complex history of interactions with outsiders that have led to the Uramat’s decision to prohibit certain parts of their ceremonies being staged on foreign soil.4 These protocols and prohibitions centre primarily around the display and performance of Qawat (kavat masks) as part of the Engini (fire dance). However, the drama of the Engini is specifically what the Indigenous Uramat Identity want to share with their audience. Seeking to honour both the protocols and aspirations of the community, a theatrical response to the Engini has been realised in the second room of the installation. This dramatic 20-minute set presents the Qawat spirit masks with their mystery intact; they emerge out of layers of projected imagery to move around and through the fire. As the spirits dance, we can hear drums beat, voices rise and fall, Uramat children laughing, the community chatter — and the fire crackle.

Ruth McDougall is Curator, Pacific Art, QAGOMA
This is an expanded version of an article originally published in the QAGOMA Members’ magazine, Artlines, no.4, 2021

1 Curatorial travel was conducted in Gualim in July 2019.
2 Day masks introduced in this space include the Madaska, Guman, Guki, Varhit and Ihru.
3 Ceremonies were hosted by the Uramat in early December 2020 and late January 2021.
4 The Uramat Engini has been promoted within cultural events and shows in both East New Britain and Papua New Guinea as an important Indigenous ceremonial practice. Despite the Engini’s popularity, the Uramat have been unable to gain control over the ways in which their dances are contextualised or the remittances that flow from their public exposure.

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‘Uramat Mugas (Uramat Story Songs)’ is a Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Project developed for display in ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ with the support of the Indigenous Uramat Identity Group of East New Britain, Papua New Guinea. The project was achieved with the assistance of the Queensland University of Technology, and supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program.

Uramat Mugas (Uramat Story Songs) is in the Marica Sourris and James C. Sourris AM Gallery (3.3), GOMA, as part of APT10.

The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’, the tenth edition of QAGOMA’s flagship exhibition series in at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art from 4 December to 26 April 2022

Featured image: Ihru ,Gaulim, 2018 / Photograph: Gideon Kakabin

Collecting to Give


Ross Searle is an avid collector, benefactor and art museum professional who has held curatorial and leadership roles around the country, including directorship of the Perc Tucker Gallery in Townsville and the University of Queensland Art Museum, and as a selector for Papua New Guinea for the inaugural Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. Since 2007, Ross has undertaken a generous program of giving that has particularly enriched QAGOMA’s holdings of Pacific art.

A conversation with Ross Searle

Ruth McDougall / Ross, what inspired your passion and pursuit to collect art?

Ross Searle / I have been a collector since my late teens, an interest that was encouraged by my mother who collected antiques and paintings. I was probably 19 when I attended my first art auction in Brisbane and bought a modernist painting by George Duncan. It was a thrilling experience. I made other modest purchases of things that caught my eye, including a Thea Proctor drawing and some Lionel Lindsay wood engravings. However, it wasn’t until I went to the University of Queensland to study art history that my focus shifted to living artists and Australian contemporary art.

RM / What has contributed towards your interest in Pacific Art?

RS / As the director of Perc Tucker Gallery, I was the commissioner of a landmark exhibition of contemporary art of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and made my first trip to that country in 1989 to select works for ‘Luk Luk Gen! Contemporary Art from Papua New Guinea’. It was the first survey of its kind and the exhibition toured Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. This stimulated my interest in Melanesian culture and since then I have made many trips into the Pacific, culminating in the study of Pacific collections in the northern hemisphere during a Churchill Fellowship.

Kerry & Co, Australia 1892-1917 / Aboriginal King c.1890s / Postcard: Black and white photographic print / 13.7 x 8.9cm / Gift of Ross Searle through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2020 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

RM / In areas like Papua New Guinea, you have collected textiles rather than larger iconic sculptural works. What inspired these choices?

RS / This was driven in part by necessity, as fibre is easy to transport and pack into a travel suitcase, but more importantly, I felt that fibre art, in all its forms, including baskets and bilums, is powerfully transformative. While traditional bilum designs are owned collectively, new images and materials have emerged that are radically transmuting these objects. My recent gift to QAGOMA includes bilum designs that range from ‘power pylons’, which demonstrate the importance of hydropower in the remote Highlands, to football team logos. Bright acrylic yarns have encouraged experimentation with designs that capture the experiences of the people of PNG today.

Underwood and Underwood Publishers, United States active 1898–1940 / The Meke 1906 / Gelatin silver stereograph / 8.8 x 17.8cm / Gift of Ross Searle through the QAGOMA Foundation 2019. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

RM / You also have a strong interest in historical photographic images of Australian and Pacific subjects. What role can you see these works playing in the story of art from these places?

RS / My interest in photography came to the fore in curating the work of contemporary photographers and teaching gallery studies, for which I convened a course on contemporary Queensland photography. The recent focus on historical photography was triggered by early photo portraits of my family: I’m particularly fascinated by Jens Hansen Lundager, an émigré who left his native Denmark and settled in Rockhampton in 1879, a few years after my mother’s Danish grandfather arrived and settled further west at Stanwell. Once I realised the extent of Lundager’s legacy as a studio and topographical photographer, I became hooked on the history of this artform in Queensland and the near Pacific.

Of course, photographic images such as cartes de visite were commonly exchanged between family members and it’s no wonder that early Queensland photographs still come up at auction in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. Also, given the harsh weather conditions in Queensland, it is the photographic record that survives in the hands of these extended families.

Images of the Pacific, of course, pose questions about the role of photography and its relationship to conventional historical accounts. Through research and exhibition of these early images, there is an expansion on the predictable veracity embedded in text and oral testimony.

Anita Aarons, Australia/Canada 1912-2000 / Pair of cups and saucers c.1952-54 / Slip-cast terracotta with turquoise and black glaze / Cups: 7 x 11.5 x 9cm (each); saucers: 1.5 x 18cm x 14.5cm (each) / Gift of Ross Searle through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2015 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of the artist

RM / For over a decade, you have donated a significant number of works to the Gallery from your own collection. What motivated you to give to QAGOMA and what role do you see donors playing in the development of public collections?

RS / My donations to QAGOMA fall into two broad interest areas: historical photography of Queensland and the south-west Pacific; and Pacific art. I’m also forming a group of works by Queensland women artists from the 1920s to the 1950s and hope to take this further in the next few years.

This interest in donating came about once I left directorial roles in the art museum sector. I have always followed the mantra ‘collect for the museum and not for yourself’ and applied this quite strenuously in my former art museum positions. Now that I am free to collect, I’m interested in questions about art practice, art collecting, the art market, and the role that donors play in shaping public collections.

Joe Lindsay (Sale), Solomon Islands b.1964 / Karai (Rooster) 1995 / Woodcut, printed in black ink, from one block on paper / 17 x 17.2cm (comp.) / Gift of Ross Searle through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2014. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Joe Lindsay (Sale)

RM / Collecting can be deeply personal. Do you get attached to works and are there any that have been particularly challenging for you to part with?

RS / I still own the first work I bought! While I’m attached to these early purchases, I’m more focused on public philanthropy and in playing a small part in helping to shape these collections.

Ross Searle spoke with Ruth McDougall, Curator, Pacific Art, QAGOMA about his career, collecting and giving in November 2020.

Featured image: Ross Searle and Ruth McDougall, Curator, Pacific Art, QAGOMA with bilum bags from Papua New Guinea donated from Searle’s private collection, 2020 / Photograph: C Callistemon © QAGOMA

#QAGOMA 2021-1

Nicolas Molé: Pulsing life forms are symbols for the forces of nature


Nicolas Molé is internationally recognised for his work in video, television, animation, drawing and sculpture. Born and educated in France, Molé relocated to New Caledonia in 2010 to connect with his extended family and his Kanak heritage on his father’s side. His ambitious practice engages with this heritage and its contemporary articulation.

Ils vous regardent (They look at you) 2015 was commissioned as part of the Yumi Danis (We Dance) project for ‘The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT8). Focused on the role of performance in Melanesia, this collaborative project saw Molé working with a diverse group of dancers and musicians from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, West Papua and the Solomon Islands to develop a work that contextualised their practice for an international audience.

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Ils vous regardent (They look at you)

Nicolas Molé / IIs vous regardent (They look at you) 2015, reconfigured 2017 / Photographs: Chloe Callistemon © QAGOMA

The animated forest environment of Ils vous regardent begins in black and white and, much like the creation story of the Kanak peoples of Lifou, under the sea. A single spotlit, bright orange fish moves slowly in and around the plant forms, circling the installation space. As the fish completes its circuit, light fully illuminates the surrounding landscape revealing a forest of shadowy textured trees.

Four Melanesian figures playfully move in and around this landscape, watching and responding to the audience in the village clearing. The animation culminates with each of the four figures embracing a tree through which the coloured life force of the forest pulses. Eventually the figures merge with the trees, and the whole scene, which is dotted with hundreds of watching eyes, erupts into colour.

The empty space at the centre of the installation represents the clearing found in most Melanesian villages, which is surrounded by verdant forest in which the dynamic forces of life and the spirit world abound.

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Nicolas Molé, France/New Caledonia b.1975 / IIs vous regardent (They look at you) 2015, reconfigured 2017 / Mixed media installation / Purchased 2017 with funds from the bequest of Jennifer Taylor through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Nicolas Molé / Photographs: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Nicolas Molé / IIs vous regardent (They look at you) 2015, reconfigured 2017 / Photographs: Chloe Callistemon © QAGOMA

In Kanak culture, trees are used for medicine and magic. Energy flows from them into both the human world and spirit world. Here, Molé engages with this force and the importance of ancestors (represented by the four figures), who are always watching over the living to make sure that we are careful in what we do.

During APT8’s opening weekend, Kanak curator Emmanuel Kasarhérou, Deputy Director of Heritage and Collections at the Museé du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Paris, recounted that:

Melanesia is an archipelago of cultures. It is like looking at a forest with lots of different things. You can’t name everything because it is too diverse. But, then after a while you if you sit still, you observe, you try to feel what the people who have been there before you can tell you. What you can’t see. Then you see something that gives sense to all the diversity.2

With Ils vous regardent, Molé engages his audience in an immersive experience that emphasises the importance of the relationship between the living and the ancestral realms. Pausing to engage with this perspective helps us approach the diversity of cultures, languages and customs comprising Melanesia. Using sophisticated technologies, Molé brings to age-old beliefs and customs a new form of expression and life.

Ruth McDougall is Curator, Pacific Art, QAGOMA

1 See Jennifer Taylor and James Connor, Architecture in the South Pacific: The Ocean of Islands, Editions Didier Millet Pte Ltd, Singapore, 2014.
2 Emmanuel Kasarhérou, in ‘The Choreography of Yumi Danis’, APT8 public programs, 21 November 2015, http://tv.qagoma.qld.gov.au/2015/12/09/apt8-the-chorography-of-yumi-danis/, accessed 19 June 2017.

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Feature image detail: Nicolas Molé IIs vous regardent (They look at you) 2015, reconfigured 2017

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