“Nunga Koom Talg Na Ta”…

The show began...

 

This is Michael Mel’s artistic performance entitled, “Shoosh! Na Kang Temani te tokor il. Nunga koom talg na ta” (Shoosh! I am chanting a tale. Give me your ears). It has a familiar Shakespearean ring to it but actually it comes from PNG! The chanted tale is presented in Michael’s language, Melpa – one of the major languages of Papua New Guinea spoken mainly in the Western Highlands Province. 

Michael was the co-curator and one of the PNG artists who brought the ‘Hailans to Ailans’ international exhibition of contemporary PNG art to London during Fall this year. He made his extraordinary debut performance in London on 24 September, 2009 at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery. An absolutely riveting performance! How else could I describe it. 

Beautiful bilum carpet for Michael's performance. Bilum - an increasingly recognizable cultural item of PNG.

 

Michael, a performance artist and arts educator,  tackles the difficult issues confronting PNG and indeed humanity through his art. In this performance which he created for this show (re: Pamela Rosi write-up in the “Hailans to Ailans” catalogue), the message I took away was that the constant challenges of living in two worlds is a common characteristic of anyone who accepts someone else’s way of life, ideas, philosophy, religion etc and at the same time staying true to his/her roots. It’s like juggling lemons and oranges but not allowing one to hold sway over the other. Michael showed us that one can live in two worlds with respect, appreciation, dignity and love for life through a process of engagement and dialogue. 

Michael steps onto the makeshift stage of colourful bilum, chanting...

 

As Michael entered chanting, I had this feeling that we were about to witness another of Papua New Guinea’s unique forms of art. What’s more – a one-man show. His costume bore the symbols of Papua New Guinea – not of the Western Highlands or the Melpa tribe –  but of a nation which is struggling to grapple with some very real and deep development and cultural issues. 

This was to be another blockbuster uniquely Papua New Guinean performance.  I really was expecting an important message. I had no idea what that message was going to be but I knew that something exciting, moving, artistic and significant was about to happen or be revealed. 

I hope these pictures captured the breath-stopping performance of Michael and his art form and what I saw and witnessed that night. A performance with a carved wooden figure, a member of the audience, a screen which provided the background and narrative of the performance, plus vocal interventions at appropriate moments during the performance. 

 

 

War on cultural hegemony et al...

 

Michael’s story hit me between the eyes. I don’t know if others in the audience felt that too. His message was gut-wrenching. Never have I experienced an artistic presentation of a difficult topical issue in such an intelligent, sincere, gentle and creative way.  Mind you this was not even in a West End theatre, but nonetheless the quality was equal to that of a West End theatre production! As the story began to sink in, I felt my gut kicked inside out as tears rained down in silence in the dimly lit room. I shielded my face with my camera. I looked at the audience, all eyes were fixed on Michael. He was giving us a significant message of life through his performance.  Urging us psychologically to change our behaviour towards eachother and towards our environment. Powerful! 

The anguished expression - priceless!

 

The naked truth so brilliantly delivered! The plot of Michael’s performance was so profound and moving there was hardly a sound – only his voice and that of Rosanna Raymond’s (of ethKnowcentrix fame and another iconic artist from New Zealand) in collaborative partnership for the performance. The air was deathly quiet as he delivered each piece of his act. It was world-class! I ventured to think that the heart of every Papua New Guinean in the audience swelled with pride that evening.  Mine did. 

Indigenous culture etc - hidden, abandoned, annilated?

 

Frustration, fear and uncertainty?

 

Christianity in PNG - its advent, its influence, its impact...

 

Tightening the noose - who is responsible?

 

The yoke...in all its manifestations...

 

During his performance a screen at the back of the stage provided a sort of commentary of the various scenes. There was some sort of dialogue also or rather verbal interventions made by Rosanna Raymond (behind the scenes) at certain parts of the multiple-act performance stressing the messages as needed. 

Empowerment - liberation of cultural identity and expression...

 

A process of 'engagement and dialogue' - empowerment to co-create and share responsibility in all spheres of human life!

 

It was a brilliant one-man show. Perfectly planned and executed.  The impromptu engagement of a member of the audience was a pleasant surprise because it seemed to the unsuspecting audience a choreographed move.  I think that was the way Michael planned it. I was standing next to the gentleman when Michael invited him on to the stage. The invited guest graciously accepted the invitation, played along with the plot, and the net result? Perfect integration! Michael created a cultural jigsaw puzzle. He was weaving his story for us. In the process we  became a part of that story too – the subtlety was simply amazing. 

 

 

Shared responsibility...

 

The shared concern for the environment - its conservation, its sustainability

 

 

An audible gasp went up from the audience as the bags were emptied of their contents right there and then on the stage. The message came across loud and clear – we could choose environmental degradation or environmental sustainability. The choice was one that reaches far beyond the shores and boundaries of PNG – it is a mighty choice for  humankind to make. A 21st Century issue – very much current and serious. 

 

 

This performance was the most unique I’ve ever seen.   In his interview with Dan Lepsoe, Michael said, ” Storytelling features in our tradition as a tool to connect the past and present…it’s about bringing the past o the present, about creating opportunities for young people to say, “This is ours.”. There needs to be a process of engagement and dialogue. They need to be brought to the table.” 

About this performance, he shared this with Dan Lepsoe saying, “My work is all about audience engagement, about creating a presence, a shared meaning…In Western culture, there is a dichotomy between the world inside and the world outside. For us, there is a continuum: we are challenged all the time, and we challenge what’s outside us.” 

I hope that Michael, with the support of sponsors, will take this performance to every province of PNG – all 20 provinces (inclusive of the National Capital District).  This story needs to be shared with every Papua New Guinean. It is our story. 

Finally, from Michael’s documented interview with Dan Lepsoe, came this, ” Visual culture reminds us of what’s carried in our minds: performance art gives us occasions to share.” Spot on!

Author: IslandMeri

I am based in Port Moresby, the capital city of Papua New Guinea. The purpose of this blog is to share my magic moments in Papua New Guinea, elsewhere in the Pacific and the world. I have many creative pursuits - singing, songwriting, amateur photography and blogging.

6 thoughts on ““Nunga Koom Talg Na Ta”…”

  1. BRAVO! BRAVO! BRAVO!
    When reading this post I could actually feel my skin crawl with goose bumps and a parched throat! I can only imagine what it may have been like when watching this riveting performance live. Very impressive indeed. I take my hat off to Dr Michael Mel for such a unique creation. We definitely need more of this in such a tumultuous time as this.

    I can never thank you enough for sharing this with us, Mari. This is absolutely inspirational stuff and I’m definitely sharing your post.

    Stay STRONG!
    nich

  2. As a teenager, I had the pleasure of listening to Dr Mel speak at an art exhibition many years ago. He is a true intellectual and his work in preserving our art, culture and languages deserves support.

    P.s love your blog! 🙂

  3. Thanks for your fantastic reviews of Hailans to Ailans, Mari! Your readers might like to check out the show’s website, http://hailanstoailans.com , where we’ve posted articles, interviews, video, lots of artwork, and more.

    I wish we’d had more time in London to chat. There’s talk of a sequel; we’ll have to catch up then.

    1. Hi Dan,

      Thank you so much for your compliments. I enjoyed putting them together. Will certainly add the link to the show’s website with all its rich and exciting content.

      Yes, there was so much going on and I guess you all were busy with the show. I am so glad there is talk of a sequel and would be great to meet you and have a chat.
      Perhaps you may want to explore the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in central London – situated 10 mins walk from my office. It’s on The Mall. Check out: http://www.ica.org. I am sure they would collaborate for an exhibition there. Am a member of ICA. They have a neat little cafe there too.

      As you can see from the posts on Cathy and Michael that I’ve quoted your interviews with them – that brought credibility to the posts – thank you.

      Have a great day.

      Kind regards,
      Mari

  4. Hi Manu,

    Thank you so much for your compliments. I am so glad you liked my post on Michael’s performance and the H – A show. I also did one for Cathy Kata’s BilumWear show which also took place on the same evening. That was one evening of what I call ‘Papua New Guinea-ness’.

    Yes, these PNG events abroad are few and far between at present. Such events need to be staged more regularly so that people will see there is more to PNG then just touristy stuff and crime and lack of good governance reports. Keen sponsorship and a meaningful buy-in by govt should help.

    Hahaha..yes, the private jet…hmmm – one day you just might be able to do that. Dream it into reality!

    I am sure that Michael would be happy to have a chat with you about replicating or scheduling such events in PNG. You’ve done really well with Urban Bounce so this is right up your alley. When I last spoke to him (& Pamela Rosi – co-curator of the H -A show) they were both keen on getting sponsorship to take contemporary PNG art overseas as regularly as possible. If you are on Facebook, I’ll provide Michael’s email address.

    I enjoy your posts – so much exciting stuff is happening in PNG and the blogs help to elevate PNG’s image although alot of hardwork and challenges there. Love the rokrok music news too.

    Once again congratulations for a successful 2009 and all the very best yet for 2010.

    Aioni,
    Mari

  5. Hi Mari, thank you so much for a very illustrative coverage of the H-A exhibition in London. I sooo wish I had a private jet to be able to zoom around the world to see such events. Maybe the govt could lend it to me oneday…anyway thanks heaps.

    Am thinking of having a chat to Michael Mel about seeing if we can do something of this sort in PNG.

    Anyway wishing you a Happy New Years for 2010!!

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