GIGS WENA’s NASFUND Art Award winning PNG 2011, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 181 × 91 cm. Courtesy Art Stret Ltd, Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea
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Home to over 1,000 different ethnicities speaking some 860 languages, Papua New Guinea (PNG) experiences frequent ethnic clashes. The country’s high rates of violent crime, official corruption and a spiraling HIV epidemic garnered its capital Port Moresby the distinction of being one of the world’s least desirable cities to live in, ranking third to last out of 140 cities in the 2011 Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Survey.

The country’s primary cultural institute, the National Museum and Art Gallery is in disrepair, with more than PGK 150,000 (USD 67,500) of debt. A national court hearing is nvestigating charges of mismanagement and embezzlement against senior employees of the museum, which has effectively suspended its activities since August. The scandal threatens to close the institution, which holds over 55,000 of the country’s anthropological and archeological artefacts, in addition to a contemporary art collection comprising some 7,000 pieces.

PNG’s cultural activities are supported by the University of Goroka and the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG), which organized a major group exhibition, “Rethinking Women in PNG” (5/19–6/4). The show looked at the histrorical contribution of women to the development of PNG, and their changing roles and iconographic representations. Included in the exhibition were prominent PNG artists such as Martin Morububuna, Alex Mebri and Laben Sakale.

The highlight of 2011’s cultural calendar was the ninth incarnation of the annual Luk Save Art Show (10/27–28), held at Port Moresby’s Royal Papua Yacht Club, which has become the leading platform for local artists to show and sell their works. The NASFUND Art Award, hosted by Luk Save for the second year in a row, was presented to Gigs Wena for his work PNG 2011 (2011).

Luk Save founder Amanda Adams’ newly launched Art Stret gallery had a promising first year, hosting seven exhibitions. The first and only commercial gallery in the country, Art Stret boasts a roster of PNG’s most notable artists. In July, they exhibited “Aroaro, the Story of a People” (7/30–8/20), a collaborative project by Jeffry Feeger and Ratoos Haoapa Gary that addressed the effects of PNG’s logging industry on rural communities.

In the nonprofit sector, Gallery PNG, founded by artist and UPNG Melanesian Institute of Arts and Communication director Daniel Waswas, hosts artist residencies and initiates classes for talented youth with the aim of cultivating budding indigenous artists. Another stalwart figure in the PNG art community is performance artist and pro vice chancellor at the University of Goroka, Michael Mel, who also serves as Pacific Chair of the Pacific Arts Association, based in Auckland. Mel represented PNG as a speaker in the fifth World Summit on Arts and Culture in Melbourne (10/3–6).

Jeffry Feeger, who depicts local issues in his work, is one of PNG’s few internationally successful artists. He exhibited at Sydney’s Global Gallery (2/17–27) and Auckland’s Whitespace Gallery (4/5–16), and held a painting demonstration at Hawaii’s ‘Iolani School in November.

Of international note, New Guinean Jocelyn Leahy curated the large-scale biennial exhibition “Pacific Storms – Lusim Land” (5/20–6/25). The show, held this year at Queensland’s Logan Art Gallery, focused on the challenges of rising sea levels and other regional concerns.

In Victoria, Canada, master carver Claytus Yambon produced Origin of the Eagle and Crocodile Clans (2011) during his residency at Alcheringa Gallery for an exhibition of PNG and Canadian Northwest Coast artists. New Guinean Michael Timbin and Kaua Gita also exhibited new works in “Ailans Travelled” (2/17–3/18) at Alcheringa.