In an exciting new development, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill, opened “Built on Culture: the Art of Papua New Guinea, celebrating 40 years of PNG Independence” on 14th September this year at the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea.
This exhibition is the first result of the Twinning Partnership between the National Museum and Art Gallery and three Australian institutions – the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, and the Australian War Memorial. The exhibition marked the 40th anniversary of Papua New Guinea’s independence and is to be followed with longer-term capacity-building activities to enhance the Papua New Guinea Museum and Art Gallery.
The Memorandum of Understanding was signed in February 2015 and the exhibition opened seven months later – testament to the energy and focus of the curatorial and exhibitions team headed by visionary Director, Dr Andrew Moutu.
The exhibition represents a startling new vision of Papua New Guinea today in which art works are shown with an emphasis on their aesthetic elements rather than the more strict system of regional variation.
Peter Naumann, co-curator with “the Doctor” (Andrew Moutu), selected pieces on aesthetic grounds, bringing together themes of nationalism, spiritualism, performance, everyday objects, and objects made by women.
The Doctor is not afraid to confront political interference. Nauman noted that “… at this moment in PNG when powerful forces within the Government, particularly the speaker, were asserting that PNG’s past cultural history was not compatible with a modern Christian nation. And this group were actively destroying carvings and associating them with evil. A feature of the exhibition was the part of a lintel of 19 heads carved for the new Parliament house building at independence. This lintel was hacked down from the building last year under orders from the Speaker of parliament.”
Art works from the Sulka region in New Britain are shown next to those from the Papuan Gulf. New Ireland next to Highlands. Contemporary next to ancient. If they work together then they can live together on the walls of the National Museum and Art Gallery.
The walls are painted art gallery white, and the works are installed on superbly crafted mounts made by Joel Bliss and his team of Ant and Ed, all from Canberra. Lighting by Miriam and Sim of Brisbane.
In addition to the Doctor and Peter Naumann, many people were able to input their ideas into the gallery layout and selection of pieces. Stephen Long and Stephanie Donigi of Architectus in Brisbane (www.architectus.com.au) were the architects who designed the new gallery, and put together an excellent short video:
In this video we can see the long curves of the suspended ceiling, the polished wood floor, the clear lines of the display platforms almost completely free of enclosing glass. The impression is of joyous freedom, almost that of people moving in a market, with the subtleties and complexities of the human mind. An eye looking inwards, freed from the past, floating, alive. The exhibition is subtle and complex, clear and organised, fluid and focused.
Labels are by Bethsheba Wari, Joyce Ainui, and Nellie Marshall. The catalogue accompanying the exhibition was written by Peter Naumann, Andrew Moutu, Barry Craig, Linus Digim Rima, Sebastian Haraha, and Nellie Marshall. Others working on the catalogue and exhibition included Emma Andy, Edith Monagi, Kirsty Morrison, Alanna Bishop and Dominic Thomas. There are many more who contributed to this exhibition and to the catalogue, and they are warmly thanked for their work.