The Oceanic Art Society’s Annual General Meeting was held on 10th November at the Middle Harbour 16ft Skiff Club, Mosman NSW – a lovely venue on a sunny day. Twenty-one members were present, with apologies from three more. After the formalities, the President, Bill Rathmell, provided a brief report on the state of the Society, and gave his and the main Committee’s vision for the future.
The year 2018 had been a busy and successful year for the OAS, despite quite strong headwinds. There had been three outstanding lectures – Natalie Wilson, Betni Kalk and Barry Craig, with one more about to come – Crispin Howarth. All by authoritative speakers and experts in the field. There had been a dynamic Tribal Art Fair in Sydney at its new venue, the National Art School’s Cell Block Theatre. South Australian members had done some (partly successful) lobbying with the powers that be, over the somewhat controversial changes in the South Australian Museum. The year’s three Journals so far issued had been independently described as amongst the best ever. Extensive preparations were being made for next year’s Forum (see elsewhere in the Journal) and the OAS website and membership database development had proceeded apace. Vigorous contributions by volunteers, both on and off the Committee, had spared the Society the consequences of not having a secretary, as such during 2018.
Nevertheless, challenges and threats to the Society’s future still abound. Committee members and advisors have all contributed much, but everyone is overstretched and there is no back-up. The “corporatisation” of some of the institutions that the Society would hope to work with, has meant that we have drifted away from some of them. Attendance at lectures has been derisory, especially considering the high calibre of the talks, and we have had little success in attracting new members and none at all in changing the demographic of our membership. The last two issues may be related – institutions appear to see themselves as providers of contemporary entertainment, whilst the traditionally art-appreciative membership of the OAS ages and younger aesthetes get their kicks from Facebook and Instagram rather than by attending lectures. These woes might be put down to the zeitgeist, but the Society has, as a result, had no profit-making activities in 2018 and has been charging each member a subscription smaller than the cost of preparing and mailing out the Journal. So, the finances are precarious.
But opportunities for the future also abound. We have shown in 2017 and 2018 that we can leverage the OAS’s organisational capacity and knowledge base by working with institutions that remain friendly, such as the Art Gallery of NSW, the Melbourne Savage Club and the National Art School. We can raise the subscription from the beginning of 2019 – it will go up to $80 (single Australia), $90 (couple Australia) and $120 (overseas). And we still have enough funds in the bank to buffer us for a couple of years. We can work hard to further expand our digital offerings (e.g. by videotaping lectures as was done with Barry Craig in 2018). We are hoping to develop a business plan to expand the scope of the Tribal Art Fair in discussion with the National Art School. This latter proposal received active support from those present at the AGM.
After the Treasurer’s report had been approved by the AGM, most of the existing Committee were re- elected: Bill Rathmell (President), Jim Elmslie (VP), Rita Uechtritz (Treasurer), David Welch (Public Officer), Irene Ashburn, Geoff Carey, Jerry Liew, Warwick Majcher and Noëlle Rathmell-Stiels. Krisztina Turza was thanked for her efforts on the committee over the two past years. The President also thanked the Committee’s three regular advisors, Chris Boylan, Crispin Howarth and Paula Latos-Valier. Pierre Laffont was proposed and accepted nomination to the main Committee to serve from the beginning of 2019. A very valuable addition to the team.
Following the Annual General Meeting there was an excellent presentation by Crispin Howarth, Curator, Pacific Arts at the National Gallery of Australia, “Ta moko is not tattoo”. In March 2019 the Gallery will present the visual history of Maori skin marking since the 18th century. Crispin discussed this unique Polynesian art through portraiture and sculpture that he has selected for the exhibition. There was a bit of everything in his characteristically lively talk – seduction, derring-do tribal rivalry, freebooting arms trading and colonial adventurism, not to mention the spiritual and cultural aspects and, now, the revival of Maori Ta Moko – and its representation through exquisite paintings and engravings, early photography and rare sculpture. The members are all looking forward to going to the show – maybe we should charter a bus for a Society trip to Canberra to see it (and buy the catalogue).
OAS members present then participated in a fundraising raffle of donated artefacts which turned the meeting into the first one this year not to make a loss. It was also the first occasion in his 73 years that Bill Rathmell has ever won anything in a raffle (a PNG Southern Highlands necklace collected more than thirty years ago by Robin Hodgson). There was an end-of-year lunch in the “Skiffies” restaurant after the talk at two tables overlooking the sunlit boats moored at the Middle Harbour and Clontarf.