Is The World Ready For BilumWear?

Cathy Kata - 'Mother' & Genius of BilumWear
Cathy Kata - started the show with the bilum chant. It was one magical occasion!

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!

The bilum starts like knitwear - small...

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.

Cathy's BilumWear displayed by two PNG ladies at the Show.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.

More of Cathy's BilumWear creations
BilumWear outfits - simply amazing!

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.

Cathy's BilumWear creations
Another colourful outfit - simply beautiful!

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's BilumWear modelled by members of the PNG community in the UK.

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.

Cathy's BilumWear  - long skirt
Beautiful PNG motifs on BilumWear makes it a unique fabric

BilumWear arrived in London. Long skirt with PNG motifs.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.

Dr P. Rosi with a Cathy Kata BilumWear jacket over a dress - stunning!
Dr Pamela Rosi in one of Cathy Kata's BilumWear creations - stunning!

Check out these sites for more information and lovely photos of BilumWear:,, and

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…

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 – or and at Alcheringa Gallery – or

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.