Hailans To Ailans: Groundbreaking International Exhibition Of Contemporary PNG Art in London, UK

Tapioca Dancers by Martin Morububuna (Painter)
Tapioca Dancers by Martin Morububuna (Painter)

In April this year I was pleasantly surprised and honoured to receive an invitation from Dr Michael Mel, Pro Chancellor of the Universithy of Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province, to what I envisaged would be a fitting 34th Independence Day celebration present – a first ever international exhibition of contemporary PNG art. The back of my invitation read, “In the autumn of 2009, this ground breaking exhibition will showcase work in a variety of media including sculpture in wood and metal, performance and fibre art, and painting. Entitled Hailans to Ailans, which means “Highlands to Islands” in Melanesian Pidgin, the show will represent both male and female artists from the different regions of Papua New Guinea”.

Metal Sculpture by Tom Deko
Metal Sculpture by Tom Deko

It took exactly five months from the date of the invitation (16 April, 2009) for me to honour the invitation and I was blessed I did. I fronted up to the Rebecca Hossack Gallery at Fitzroy Square in London and felt so privileged and honoured to be present with the small PNG community in London, to celebrate PNG’s 34th Independence Day on 16th September, 2009 and to witness the opening of the historic two-part international exhibition of PNG contemporary art featuring five of Papua New Guinea’s iconic artists as well as celebrate the occasion. The exhibition was officially opened by PNG’s High Commissioner to the UK and Northern Ireland, Ms Jean Kekedo, OBE. We were treated to a private viewing of these iconic works of art. We got to witness the displays of Bilum Wear and Dr Mel’s performance on 24 September, 2009 at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery.  What an inspiration to up and coming young contemporary artists and an inspiration to all of us who are inclined to follow our dreams and share our God-given gifts. I should know as a singer and songwriter myself. The satisfaction one feels in sharing ones work but more importantly the appreciation that is shown by people who enjoy art and music that goes beyond aesthetics – that appreciation captures the spirit of the  artist and sustains his/her creativity.

Origin of the Eagle and Crocodile Clans by Claytus Yambon (Wood Carver)
Origin of the Eagle and Crocodile Clans by Claytus Yambon (Wood Carver)

The exhibition features fibre art (bilum and Bilum Wear), painting, performance, woodcarving and metal sculpture. With more funding I am sure half a dozen other PNG artists would have taken part in this contemporary art exhibition in two great international locations.

Stunning colours of the newest fabric from PNG to the fashion world.
Stunning colours of the newest fabric from PNG to the fashion world.

The exhibition opened in London at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery in London from 16 September to 17 October, 2009, then will move to the Alcheringa Gallery in Victoria, Canada. This unique groundbreaking international contemporary art exhibition is curated by Dr Pamela Rosi and Dr Michael Mel. The artists are: Cathy Kata (bilums and Bilum Wear (as in fashion), Claytus Yambon (woodcarver and also representing four other woodcarvers), Martin Morububuna (painter), Michael Mel (performance) and Tom Deko (metal sculptor). The exhibition is presented in a stunning pictorial catalogue of each artist’s work, a series of one-to-one interviews and articles by Pamela Rosi, Elaine Monds and others on each of the artists and their artworks.

Bilums from Cathy Kata
Bilums from Cathy Kata

According to Dr Michael Mel, the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Goroka and a contemporary performance artist himself, “Hailans to Ailans, is a culture project seeking to promote better global recognition of the meanings, aesthetics, and values of contemporary PNG art. The exhibition is also an opportunity to celebrate the rich and varied history and heritage of PNG visual arts, and the capacity of artists in PNG to survive and be creative in confronting the challenges of modernization.”

Performance Art  by Michael Mel
Performance Art by Michael Mel

He went on to say that, “As viewers will see at the exhibitions in London and Victoria, contemporary PNG artists meld old and new in their art. Yambon carves narrative works that illustrate traditional myths and also works that reflect  every day life. Kata loops bilums in traditional and modern fibers and patterns; her bilum wear mixes media. Deko welds sculpture from recycled metal of subjects from village and urban life. Morububuna creates acrylic paintings inspired by Trobriand myths and ceremonies, but also images [of] modern society and its conflicts. Mel, through performance, engages with communities to use the artistry of theater to challenge and share language, knowledge, and ideas from his community and those of others.”

Founding of the Pig Clan by Lucas Tangun
Founding of the Pig Clan by Lucas Tangun

My first impressions of this historic ocassion is one of pride and joy. But I also asked in my mind, where is the fanfare? Did the show get the publicity it needed at home in PNG before it sailed across the seas? Why is it that PNG art and artists are appreciated more outside PNG – why? Nevermind dispela kain tingting. Apart from the invitation letter I received from Dr Mel and the High Commissioner’s invitation there was zilch by way of a headline in PNG. I sincerely apologise if I missed it! With funding coming from the Christensen Fund and NASFUND, it begged the question: what was the Government’s part in this exhibition: I kept on asking myself why the Government was not able to put its money where it’s mouth is and support the very people, artists in this case, to promote PNG’s identity or part of it abroad and inside PNG. Despite these questions and musings, I felt a sense of great pride that I was able to be part of the first batch of people to view these art works.  I also realised that it takes a long time for a gallery to host an exhibition of this kind. I am grateful that Rebecca Hossack, the owner of the gallery and a long time friend of the late Kauage, a lengendary and iconic artist himself within PNG and abroad, hosted the exhibition. Ties like these are hard to come by especially if they work towards the benefit of PNG interests – in this case a groundbreaking international exhibition of contemporary PNG art.

Metal Sculpture by Tom Deko
Metal Sculpture by Tom Deko

The catalogue of these unique artworks costs £16.00. Inside the catalogue is a price list of all the exhibited works both in British Pounds (GBP) and Canadian Dollars (CDN). If you are interested in purchasing any of these artworks, please contact either of the galleries: RH Gallery, London – info@rebeccahossack.com or http://www.r-h-g.co.uk and at Alcheringa Gallery – alcheringa@islandnet.com or http://www.alcheringa-gallery.com

Titles of the artwork  – courtesy of the “Hailans to Ailans” catalogue.

Contains interviews, articles and great photos of the artworks
Contains interviews, articles and great photos of the artworks

This international exhibition will close on 17 October, 2009. The exhibition in London is at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery. From the bottom of my heart I am sincerely grateful to the artists, the curators, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, designers and compilers of the exhibition catalogue, and all the wantoks in London who have contributed to a great Independence Day celebration and art exhibition.

Author: islandmeri

Life is a journey which I enjoy. Here I share my passion for helping others, music, ideas, inspiring things, and interesting places and people. It's my cool hangout.

9 thoughts on “Hailans To Ailans: Groundbreaking International Exhibition Of Contemporary PNG Art in London, UK”

  1. Hi Mari,

    Thanks for this blog. I have just recently found your blog and have linked it to ours ( http://melanesianway.blogspot.com ) Your postings on the PNG contemporary PNG Art showcase is very interesting. We enjoyed them most.

    I agree with most of the comments made by readers on your blog and your comments as well. It about time now locals must see our own culture and artwork through outside world perception. A group of PNG youths have come to realize the need to preserve and record the Melanesian culture as a way to keep alive the fast fading Melanesian ways. Thus, we have formed a youth group to preserve and promote PNG Arts and Culture.

    We have made showcases of PNG-made bilums in the UK at British Museum and Scottish National Museum. We are looking forward to more opportunities. We have now some link with UPNG through its Anthropology Department and we are also looking out for other organizations and artists to join us as well to help PNG youths who are outside of the formal education system participate in growing and living with the Melanesia culture. We looking forward to establish contacts and links with other to increase our attempts to preserve and record the cultures.

    You can find some of our work on the blog at, http://melanesianway.blogspot.com

    Kind Regards!

    Peter Kinjap.

  2. PNG Government’s contribution was also from the PNG High Commission to the United Kingdom. Providing Transport, publishing the event in the UK and paying for the reception on 16th September 2009. We also ensured the Artist were given a meal at the High Commissioner’s Residence. A total cost of about £3,500.00 or about K20,000-00. Government assists but does not boast.

    Kaka Jean

  3. Hi there, just found this. we have just got our new blog! Perhaps we could link so people can read your review on the show?

    best wishes,


    1. Hi Hannah,

      Great news! Congratulations! please go right ahead and link it to your site. I’ll put your link onto my site too.

      Best wishes,

  4. I only discovered your blog recently, as you were nice enough to leave a comment on mine. Your photography is just stunning, and although I’m half a world away, I feel as if I attended this exhibit through your commentary and photos. I am so pleased to be introduced to this art from your very vibrant culture. I also enjoy seeing the UK through your eyes.

    1. Hi Museditions,
      Thank you for your compliments for enjoying my post on the art exhibition. I love taking photos and your comments are so encouraging. The exhibition is going to be in Canada next month. I am posting two more posts on the events at the exhibition soon. Yes, as an expat in a foreign country we get to see things the locals dont because sometimes they take these things for granted and that’s fine. I guess what moves my spirit are ordinary things sometimes such as sunsets or veggie markets or fish… Have great weekend.

  5. Dear Mari,

    Thank you for supporting and advocating everything that makes PNG special and different. Your support in helping the artists and curators and friends while we were in London was special. Your site and blog keep getting the message out that there is no place like PNG here and that our artists, our visionaries, bring to the foreground those attributes and qualities that give depth and dimension to life in PNG.

    We will certainly fly the flag in Victoria, Canada. The collaboration with the Salish community of artists and friends will be special and we look forward to that event in November. I hope that you will continue to dialogue with your organization to see if there are any opportunities for PNG artists to traverse within the Commonwealth given our shared history.

    You take care. Kanda Ketch!


  6. Thanks for your great review of Hailans to Ailans, Mari, and thanks also for coming out to its events in London! I’m glad you enjoyed them. Events affiliated with the show (listed on our website) have started in the US, and like London, many people are travelling from other areas to take part in them. This strong interest should fuel further opportunities to showcase your home country’s remarkable artists and cultural achievements- including opportunities within PNG.

    By the way, the show did receive government support in the form of K20,000 from PNG’s Tourism Promotion Authority towards the artists’ airfares. As other businesses and organizations begin to realize the value of PNG’s tremendous biocultural wealth, funding for ventures of this kind should get easier. The burgeoning international interest in the country’s finest contemporary expressions- a welcome break from the equation of age with authenticity- gives reason for optimism.

    Dan Lepsoe
    Alcheringa Gallery

    1. Dear Dan,
      Great to hear from you and thank you so much for your compliments. Yes, blogsphere will spread the good news faster. I am so glad that the show is moving around and others are able to participate. I truly believe that the best of contemporary PNG art is yet to be discovered just like the new species of fauna and flora discovered recently that enjoyed great BBC1 coverage here in the UK. I am so glad that you have a healthy optimism and I hope and trust that with your faith and confidence and support including from others like Pamela Rosi and Elaine Monds, PNG artists led by visionaries such as Michael Mel will continue to showcase their artwork. Thanks also for highlighting the financial contribution of TPA towards airfares is much appreciated. I too am a great supporter of contemporary art and let’s hope that more financial houses as well as the PNG Government will contibue to suppohttps://islandmeri.wordpress.com/wp-admin/edit-comments.php#comments-formrt these exciting artistic endeavours.

      Much appreciation and best regards to yourself. Alcheringa Gallery, and all the people who are supporting and participating in this historic international exhibition of contemporary PNG art.


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