PNG SHOULD TAKE LOCAL ARTWORK SERIOUSLY

Editorial

The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 1, 2009) – Art, in the form of statues, totem poles, pottery, paintings, etc, appeals to the senses in its sweetest romance or makes bold statements of belligerence.

Among the gamut of statements it makes can be one of political hope.

Like the one said by the 31-year-old French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi: "I will try to glorify the republic and liberty over there, hoping that I will one day find them back here."

His consuming passion became the creation of a "work of profound moral worth," and he drew inspiration from the stone monuments of Egypt, the Colossus of Rhodes, a 76-ft copper statue of St Charles Borromeo in Arona, Italy.

The young Bartholdi was speaking of the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the French people for America’s centennial in 1876.

His work was put together in a Paris workshop and then shipped to New York where it became a symbol of hope for the masses of immigrants that flocked from all over Europe.

On another tangent, more than 250 years after his death, Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco) was regarded as an extravagant, even mad, painter who deserved little more than a footnote in history.

Spanish artists dismissed El Greco’s work as "contemptible and ridiculous, as much for the disjointed drawings as for the unpleasant colour".

It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that anyone bothered to have a second look at the "disjointed" work.

"In El Greco’s daring perspective, distortions, and audacious use of light and colour, artists found reinforcement for their own artistic ideas," a writer observed.

Both El Greco and Bartholdi were champions in their field. They relayed messages through their medium – art – to those who saw them and felt them.

El Greco’s path may not have been any different from the fate suffered by Justin Tkatchenko when he erected his totem poles along Waigani Drive and Gordon several years ago.

One of the aims of art – that people failed to realise – was to raise new questions about the way society looks at issues.

El Greco’s representation of art caused more than a stir.

Women’s groups decried the artistic expression featuring reproductive organs. They were removed. People contrast and value certain types of objects for essentially historical and socio-cultural reasons.

At about the same time, in Wewak, a totem pole stood sentinel at the foyer of the Windjammer Hotel. Many a tourist, from abroad and within, posed for a picture of the bestiality between a woman and a crocodile.

In Sepik mythology, the croc was a pukpuk man.

Perhaps the subject was crude for the city women of Port Moresby. But it wasn’t for tourists from cosmopolitan New York or London or Tokyo.

Perhaps the Port Moresby women wished for a subtle depiction of the subject.

Such productions matter because they excite emotions and change attitudes.

Art historians and connoisseurs say that each of us have a horizon made up of all those things we know and take for granted.

Many of these understandings have been given to us by our family and our society, and work on us with an effectiveness of an ongoing tradition.

Together, they make up the sphere in which we are at home.

"But as well as being at home, we also have a consciousness of the limitations of our own restricted horizon within the flow of history and tradition," an essayist said.

He hopes that the horizon is not closed, but remains open to new experiences, new learnings.

Every day at the driveway into some of the premier hotels in Papua New Guinea including the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza in Port Moresby, the Lae International Hotel and the Madang Resort, artists sit with their paintings hoping someone will come and buy something or at least appreciate them.

Not a single Papua New Guinean can be seen to stop and take a second glance at the painters. The only people who stop by are Japanese tourists or those of European descent.

Is it any wonder then that former journalist and art dealer Joycelin Kauc Leahy has to take Papua New Guinean art to Australia to be appreciated?

She is the curator of the Pacific Storms art exhibition which begins on Wednesday in Bundaberg, Queensland.

The exhibition will feature the works of talented young artists Jeffrey and Mairi Feeger.

Says Ms Leahy: "The unique art forms are evidenced in museum and gallery collections all over the world." But of course, not at home.

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