– Spring/Summer 2019

Privileging Community Voices: Cultural Revitalisation in Museology and Contemporary Art from Papua New Guinea

Michael A. Mel

Asaro mudmen, Papua New Guinea, colour slides. Cochrane Papua New Guinea Collection, 1944–66. Courtesy University of Wollongong Archives, Wollongong

Majestic rings of cane threaded with shell demonstrate a thriving indigenous economy in Papua New Guinea. Known as Tutana and Loloi, these arresting forms are created for display in public ceremonies by the Gunantuna (Tolai People) of East New Britain. Towering overhead and richly textured with jewel-like shells, Tutana confront and mesmerize the viewer with the wealth and social merit of their owners.
– Gideon Kakabin1

Background: Control and Denial

Papua New Guinea (PNG), like any other Pacific nation, is challenged as she navigates her way in the world in the twenty-first century. Economic, political and cultural challenges are posed by changes in local societies that were once enclosed largely due to geography. Located north of Australia, PNG comprises the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and four large islands mainly to the north-eastern part of the country. As a nation, it emerged through European contact in the 1800s. The island was divided in two halves: the western half became Dutch New Guinea and the eastern was further divided. The northern half became German New Guinea and the southern half became British New Guinea and later the Territory of Papua, under British rule. After 1914 both Papua and New Guinea came under the colonial care of Australia. Papua New

  1. Gideon Kakabin, ‘Gunantuna (Tolai People)’, in The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (exh. cat.), South Brisbane: Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, 2018, p.63.

  2. ‘Population’, National Statistics Office: Papua New Guinea, available at https://www.nso.gov.pg/index. php/population-and-social/other-indicators (last accessed on 28 January 2019).

  3. See ‘Vale: Gideon Kakabin’, Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art [blog], available at https:// blog.qagoma.qld.gov.au/vale-gideon-kakabin/ (last accessed on 4 February 2019).

  4. See Arjun Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

  5. Jude Philp, ‘The Instability of Objects: A Collection of British New Guinea Natives’ Implements’, Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, vol.42, 2015, p.42.

  6. Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman, ‘Holosa: Art, Identity and Place in Asaro’ (project brief for exhibition team), Sydney, Australian Museum, 2017, p.1.

  7. Video interview with Jim Gahiye by Dilen Doiki, Komunive village, 2016. Transcription by Klinit Barry, 2017.

  8. Claire Vince, ‘Asaro ‘Mud Men’ come to Sydney to share their culture and mud masks’ (press release), Australian Museum, Sydney, August 2016.

  9. Matt Poll, ‘Songlines, Museology and Contemporary Aboriginal Art’, Artlink, vol.38, no.2, June 2018, p.37.

  10. Philipp Schorch, ‘Contact Zones, Third Spaces and the Act of Interpretation’, Museum and Society, March 2013, vol.11, no.1, pp.68–81.

  11. Video interview with J. Gahiye by Dilen Doiki, Komunive village, 2016. Transcription by K. Barry, 2017.

  12. Video interview with Amoi by D. Doiki, Komunive village, 2016. Transcription by K. Barry, 2017.

  13. See ‘Mudman Custodians Urge Stop To Abuse Of Their Cultural Heritage’, Post-Courier: The Heartbeat of PNG, 20 September 2018, available at https://postcourier.com.pg/mudman-custodians-urge-stop- abuse-cultural-heritage/ (last accessed on 28 January 2019).