There is a magic and energy around the gathering of artists

Opening night guests / Photograph: Mark Sherwood © QAGOMA
Installation view of ‘No 1 Neighbour’ / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA
Installation view of ‘No 1 Neighbour’ / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

There is a magic and energy around the gathering of artists, friends and supporters at an exhibition opening, and this energy was certainly present at the opening of ‘No 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966-2016‘. The magic of that night however rested on two very special gifts.

The first was a moving acknowledgement to Country by our Indigenous Australian Art Curator Bruce McLean who filled the cavernous space of the Gallery’s Watermall with the deep rich sounds of the didgeridoo, then raised his voice in an intensely beautiful song to welcome the artists, their works and local communities to our Gallery.

Bruce McLean, Curator, Indigenous Australian Art / Photograph: Mark Sherwood © QAGOMA

Speeches – including one by exhibition sponsor Marilyn Darling –  were followed by a dramatic and unique performance by celebrated Tolai singer and musician George Telek. For the first time in 100 years, a traditional midi (shell collar) which marks the wearer as a lualua (senior Tolai man) was worn on stage by Telek. The beautiful midi was re-created by Tolai/Australian artist Lisa Hilli and marks the culmination of over six years of research into midi in museum collections.

Tolai singer and musician George Telek wearing a traditional midi (shell collar) / Photograph: Courtesy David Bridie

For the performance a band of soft, downy feathers circled his brow mirroring the form of the majestic, shell adorned collar and necklet of leaves that framed his silent stare. Like the midi and bilas he wore, that focused look cut through time and space, casting a line between then and now, creating an interval which resonated with another time and place.

After this moment was captured he silently moved to the front of the crowd. With explosive force, a cloud of fine white kumbung (lime) hit the ground at his feet, billowing like a protective cloak around his form – opaque and shimmering.

As the dust settled he quietly stood, composed and still. Then his voice filled the room, gently and with warmth, purposefully holding that space open… making it a place in which the carefully hidden momentarily issued forth.

With thanks Bruce McLean and George Mamua Telek for their gifts. To Lisa Hilli for bringing the midi back to life…

Lisa Hilli installing midi / Photograph: Mark Sherwood © QAGOMA
Installation view of ‘No 1 Neighbour’ with midi installed / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

And to all the namba wan artists: George Telek, Gideon Kakabin, David Bridie, Keith Deverell, Nao Anzai, Lisa Hilli, Julia Mage’au Gray, Florence Jaukae-Kamel, Taloi Havini, Mary Gole, Eric Bridgeman, Kwoma Arts, Simon Gende,  David Lasisi, Yenchen cultural group, Allana Movana, Stella Upia, Vivian Marumi, Vunpaka and Iatapal cultural groups, Lucas Tangun, Joseph Kandimbu, Graham Owari, Katnanat Elison, Ruki Fame, Angelina Gumowe, Isaac Kapun, Enos Levi, Sifas Morea, Tawan Andrew, BB Frank, Talita Jack, Gau Maima, Susen Nelfin, Jully Thomas, Aiyome Walu, Sunameke productions and the late Mathias Kauage, Simon Nowep, Jakupa Ako, John Siune, Timothy Akis, Hape, Tiabe and Wendi Choulai.

Deeply grateful to you all.

‘No.1 Neighbour’ 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.

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BLOG-No 1 Neighbour book for blog


Our richly illustrated hardcover publication accompanies the exhibition, with contributions from 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.