In a cramped space but with enough room to stage a world class art exhibition, Cathy Kata introduced BilumWear to the UK – in London – one of the famous fashion capitals of the world. On the evening of 24 September, 2009 amongst Papua New Guinean residents of the UK and avid PNG followers BilumWear made its entrance albeit less grand than the catwalks in London’s Fashion Week and other famous fashion shows in Paris and New York.
No-one would have known that BilumWear was introduced in a small quarter of London on that night except those of us who were there to enjoy the show. Almost lost in the other exciting things that make up the life in a big cosmopolitan city. I bet you one day BilumWear – the unique fashion fabric from Papua New Guinea – will be mainstreamed as a fabric worthy of fashionistas – famous or otherwise around the world. Everyone’s always looking for something new to work with and BilumWear is definitely in the ‘something new’ catagory.
I was most awestruck with Cathy and with BilumWear – and who wouldn’t!
BilumWear is absolutely Papua New Guinean! PNG fashion is experiencing a BilumWear bonanza! It is a fast growing brand name in Papua New Guinea fashion. Why? Because for the first time, the humble fibre which up until recently has been the material used to make totes of various sizes and colours, can now be worn as dresses, blouses and so on.
Bilums are found in practically every part of the world. BilumWear is Papua New Guinea’s resounding response to Thai and Chinese silk, English linen and brocade, satin, damask and so on – and fast finding its way into wardrobes in PNG and overseas. I recently had the pleasure of seeing photos of PNG women wearing BilumWear in PNG and Australia and as faraway as the USA via Facebook albums, PNG and PNG-related blogs as well as on Google. Wow…so what is this fabric we are talking about? Check out a number of blogsites given at the end of this post for more information on BilumWear.
The ‘Hailans to Ailans’ international exhibition of contemporary art catalogue featured an interview with Cathy Kata by Dan Lepsoe. He asked Cathy what the bilum meant to her and she said, “There’s a song in my language that captures this…” and she told the story of how it was the spirits that led a young girl to discover a special fibre and made bilum from it. The making of the bilum in turn became the beginning of life’s journey for the young girl – she grew up, got married, had children and the bilum an integral part of her life – “…So the song really describes the importance of bilum to a woman’s life” said Cathy.
I was proud because the exhibition was uniquely Papua New Guinean. Now Cathy was part of this historic ‘Hailans to Ailans’ international exhibition which opened in London on 16 September, 2009.
From Lepsoe’s interview, I gathered that Cathy’s journey into bilum weaving and into BilumWear was inspired in 2000 by an article of a PNG fashion designer “…who had created a garment with a piece of bilum attached to the pocket.” I am still wondering who wrote that article that woke up the artisitc and entreprenuerial giant in Cathy. I have a few guesses but will keep them to myself lest I am wrong. Will ask Cathy next time I see her.
Cathy learned bilum weaving or looping from the tender age of 5. Since reading the article on combining bilum material with another fabric she was inspired to create her first bilum product. She made a bilum frock for her daughter’s graduation. This was the step in the right direction – she was doing something she had knowledge of, something she loved and something that opened up new possibilities for her entreprenuerial endeavours. She created her special Cathy Kata BilumWear from that day onwards. The rest, as they say, is history.
Cathy has participated in a number of exhibitions in PNG and abroad such as this one in London and in 2003 was artist-in-residence at the de Young museum in San Francisco, USA.
When I received Dr Mel’s invitation (co-curator of the international exhibition) to the the ‘Hailans to Ailans’ show in London, I was really happy and delighted that I would be meeting the creator of bilum dresses made entirely in PNG. I remember reading about her but couldn’t remember when and where. What a wonderful opportunity this would be to meet her and one that I would not miss.
BilumWear arrived in London. Amid the splash of bright colours which filled the small space on the second floor of the Rebecca Hossack Gallery. What a night that was. When Cathy started chanting her bilum song and the PNG wantok models took to the makeshift catwalk following a superbly choreographed performance to introduce to the world BilumWear, a great audible sigh of admiration and awe could be heard in the quiet room.
As the models danced and swayed I was suddenly overcome with pride as well as the realisation that Papua New Guinea is slowly making its mark in the world through its art and cultural exhibitions. I was so grateful for the invitation to this exhibition. We need more shows or exhibitions like this. The artists need support in advertising, marketing, and promotion of their works throughout the world. But the kind of support they need must be sustained to be able to make the sort of impact that European art and antiques have made on collectors around the world.
I thank Cathy for being part of the team of PNG iconic artists and bringing BilumWear to London. What a great occasion to introduce BilumWear to Europe than during the week celebrating PNG’s 34th Independence Day in London.
Check out these sites for more information and lovely photos of BilumWear:
http://www.euraliapaine.blogspot.com, http://www.mitchie.net/pnginfo/bilums, http://masalai.wordpress.com, http://www.rockyroephotographics.com/gallery and http://www.pngbd.com
I reckon that BilumWear will one day find its own place on the catwalks of Europe and America, Asia and the Pacific and Africa. Designers are always looking for new fabrics to work with and BilumWear is not going to remain in the shadows for too long. It only takes a small step and perhaps it was meant that BilumWear made its debut appearance here in London – a fashion capital.
When BilumWear finds its way into wardrobes to suit various dress and pocketbook sizes, Papua New Guinea would have given the world something so unique and most unexpected. That’s right! Something unexpected from the ‘land of the unexpected’.
So hello world, are you ready for BilumWear? Me thinks you are…
17 thoughts on “Is The World Ready For BilumWear?”
Hello, I’m movie maker and i would like to promote the women who are making Bilum cloths. Could you give me some contacts ? Could you give me their phone numbers. I’m working on a movie about fashion. Thanks in advance,
Could you tell me how you intend to promote bilum makers and other details of your business? There are so many bilum makers in PNG.
@Marc-I know of some ladies who make bilum wear. You can contact me on .
Thank you Mari and happy independence celebration. Thankyou for your response, unfortunately i cancelled my facebook account so currently I am without one.
Have a blessed day
Love your post, Bilum fashion in itself has already formed a distinctive style, features and significantly different from other national garment in PNG, the world, and even with modern dress in the standard fabric pattern and style is qualitatively different. It deserves all support and exposure. I did my masters reseacrh on bilum fashion and I did acknowledged your blog. The bilum fashion was a “WOW” among my fashion design and art lecturers here in China. Would you have any contacts of Sharon Brissoni? I would love to get in touch with her.
Hi Meri Goroka,
Happy 36th Indep. anniversary today.
Thank you for visiting and for enjoying the article on Kathy Kata’s bilumwear which I featured in my blog in 2009. I agree that bilumwear will be a unique product offer. Sorry I don’t have Sharon Brissoni’s contact but will see if others have it and will let you know. Are you on Facebook?
Have a super day.
meri goroka – sharon brissoni – firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations on your website. I’m always happy to see someone focusing on PNG.
I’m not sure how to contact you by email but I’m editing a video podcast about Cathy Kata and I’m interested in using a few of your photos if possible.
Thank you for your compliments. I am a Papua New Guinean living in the UK. I was really honored to be invited to Cathy’s show and Michael’s performance last September here in London.
If you are on Facebook perhaps we can meet there and I can give you my email address.
You are most welcome to use my photos for your work. You could quote the source or if you are not too particular to leave my watermark on the photos. Thank you so much for asking to use my photos. I am most honored and delighted. It would be grate to see the product of your labours.
Thank you for visiting my blog. I am really grateful you did. If you don’t mind me asking, where are you from?
Cathy Kata will be delighted to see your report on the presentation of her bilum wear as “living sculpture” and an occasion for storytelling. Rosanna Raymond must be credited with showing the bilum wear that way. The woman who inspired the original bilum wear production is Sharon Brissoni. If you want to be in touch with her, please contact me. She is presently working to raise funds to support PNG women bilum makers….Her original fashions were stunning
Thanks for the great story. I’ve forwarded it to Joseph Kata to pass to Cathy to show to the many creative women who created the bilum bags and bilum wear. Pamela R.
Season’s Greetings to you and yours. Great to hear from you. I trust the 2nd leg of the exhibition went well in Canada. I really am privileged to have met you all. Thank you for enjoying my blog post on BilumWear and for forwarding my post to Joseph Kata to pass on to Cathy. Yes, I really enjoyed the show. Due to work commitments during the day I wasn’t able to go to all their performances which no doubt have included the four artists from New Zealand with the able leadership of Rosanna. I also enjoyed meeting her when I attended their exhibition at October Gallery in London I think a week before the ‘Hailans to Ailans’ event. It would be great to meet Sharon Brissoni and talk to her about BilumWear and perhaps work with her to promote BilumWear. I am interested in getting a couple of BilumWear outfits and wonder if I could enlist your help in getting in touch with Cathy and letting her know what I’d like made.
Keep warm and best wishes for the festive season.
I would be delighted to get in touch with you and talk ‘bilum stuff’ …I have been in Italy for 5 months and was not able to read your blog until Pamela Rosi mentioned it to me…..
Thank you for visiting my blog. I will be delighted to speak with you about ‘bilum stuff’. Are on Facebook? If so I will inbox you my email and phone numbers there. I am based in Port Moresby.
I look forward to meeting you soon.
Hey, I am proud to say here that all our girls in the blog pictures look very beautiful in their bilum wear dress outfits. This may be a niche market for Island Meri to sell PNG in the UK.
Go fo it girls!
Thanks for your compliments. The models were our very own PNG wantoks living in the UK. I would love to promote the fabrics here – I think there is a market…
Thanks for the support for BilumWear – Cathy, Florence and others should be encouraged and supported to continue to promote this unique, proudly Papua New Guinean product.
Thanks for the comment. Yes, it does have a bright future. Loved Rocky’s pics on your blog.
Have a great day.
The humble bilum has certainly come a long way!! I believe it has a bright future ahead.
So bring on the red carpet & dazzle the world..