Beyond Pacific Art Gallery Opens Its Doors In Australia

Joycelin Kauc Leahy - the brains and beauty behind Beyond Pacific Art..susa yu yet!

On Saturday, 17th March, 2012, a number of relatives, friends and associates gathered to celebrate the opening of the first PNG Art Gallery, in Brisbane, Australia which also features artwork and handicrafts from PNG and the Pacific Islands. The Gallery is set in lush green surroundings at 23 Lather Road, Bellbowrie, Queensland and is about 20 minutes from the city of Brisbane.

JKL in her element...

I was privileged and honoured to be invited to open the Gallery owned by none other than our own iconic Joycelin Kauc Leahy who is also the Curator of Pacific Storms.  In her Curatorial Statement for the 2011 Pacific Storms, she says, “The Pacific Storms Contemporary Art Exhibition explores the profound relationships that the people from these 27 states and territories have with their land and their environment. It examines some important aspects of land and culture, and the serious threat of destruction to these cultures…”

Some of the beautiful items in the Gallery. Part of the painting in the background is called 'Infinity' by Mason James Lee (2009).

 She goes on to state, “Dramatic climatic changes are the biggest threat to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific, who have contributed very little to the effects of climate change, yet are among its most hard-hit victims. Pacific Storms aims to give voice to the real concerns facing the Pacific Island countries and their people by integrating the message of Lusim Land (Lost Land) with contemporary visual, digital and performance arts that reflect the intangible heritage of the Pacific Islands.”

This is an exquisite woven mat which I think can be worn. I think it is from Vanuatu (I stand to be corrected).

For Joycelin the creation of this Gallery has been a labour of love. The labour – her blood, sweat and tears and the love – her deep commitment and passion for art, her faith and her zest for service to others.

Entrance of the Beyond Pacific Art Gallery is on the left...

She is visionary and this can be seen with the choice of this beautiful and quaint location in this scenic corner of Queensland. She shared her passion with others who responded positively and in doing so contributed to a shared and rewarding journey for herself as well as her family and the many others she helped and empowered her along the way.  

Baskets and carvings from around the Pacific Islands.

The rain was a small inconvenience as old friends met eachother and tried to catch up on all that they’ve missed in eachother’s lives over the years. We were there to support Joycelin and to celebrate with her and her family this momentous occasion and to share her happiness in the accomplishment of her mission.

One of Laben Sakale's signature etchings takes pride of place in the Gallery.

I am delighted that we have a Papua New Guinean who has achieved much in promoting PNG arts and culture in Australia and the Pacific. Joycelin is not one to sit and expect others to make things happen for her.  One of the most endearing features of our wonder woman Down Under is that she walks the talk!

Browsing through some of the books on offer at the Gallery.

I was in the presence of greatness as I listened intently to her frank and open yet gentle and friendly explanations on the various aspects of her journey as an artist and as a curator and now a proud gallery owner. What an awesome achiever, is our Morobean lass. She is a go-getter!

Some more beautiful items on display at the Gallery.

With Joycelin, what you see is what you get. That comes with years of learning, doing, helping and sharing her passion for art with others. As an artist herself she has conquered many mountains of discouragement and disappointment to reach her goals. But if I know Joycelin well, this is another beginning of the many exciting endeavours to come, blessing others wherever she turns her talents and attention to.

The tray is one of Joycelin's pieces of artwork with a beautiful lacquer finish.

She lives and breathes all things art and artistic and glows as she relates the many exciting and life-changing situations and people she has encountered along the way who have blessed her with positive contributions that drew her closer to her goals. Joycelin is indeed a mobile compendium of PNG and Pacific Art and an encyclopedia of PNG and Pacific Islands’ arts and iconic artists, herself included.

Delicate woven starfish with the top half of a cowrie shell in the middle.

In my brief remarks before declaring the Gallery officially open, I shared some observations which I think captures what Joycelin Leahy has achieved not for herself but for a country that is struggling to define itself. Its artworks and artists will lead the fray as it were providing many defining moments and this occasion was one of those moments without exception.

A PNG bilum in traditional design.

Firstly, I mentioned that PNG should be proud that one of her own has ventured into a somewhat familiar but new territory that is yet to appreciate the full potential of Papua New Guineans and what makes them tick. Through her passion, perseverance and pursuit of excellence she has succeeded.  I think that sums up the key ingredients for success – the three ‘P’s: passion, perseverance and the pursuit of excellence.

An open woven basket wine bottle rest...Pacific Island ingenuity!

Secondly, this Gallery is a manifestation of Joycelin’s artistic journey and meticulous nurturing of what she believes to be her destiny. One must acknowledge one’s artistic potential and those of others to achieve one’s dreams and aspirations because that is one’s own truth: the truth about who they are, and what they are about in this life.

A beautiful woven Fijian basket. Will compliment any formal or informal attire.

Thirdly, I said that PNG women artists are not very well promoted in PNG as well as overseas. The ones that get recognized are usually because a non-Papua New Guinean has recognized their artistic talent and helps them to showcase that.

A beautiful carving with pearl inlay...

Women artists will always be in the shadows unless they push themselves forward and into the limelight, their achievements will remain in the kitchen, bedroom and living rooms of their homes never to see the light of day – their artistic accomplishments.

Sam, JKL, yours truly, Ileen and Chris.

We need to recognize the struggles of these women and at the sametime draw on shining examples such as Joycelin Leahy – who is mother, father, artist, curator, trainer, mentor and many other roles – who become inevitably the role models of women artists wanting to accomplish their dreams through their art whether it’s painting, bilum weaving, handicrafts, sculpture, pottery, dance, music, poetry, photography and so on.

A buai (betel nut chewing) moment. No PNG or Pacific Island event will be complete without beloved buai moments like this one come rain or shine - with diehard buai lovers - Lorna, Kets and Kevin at the back.

We need to embrace the artistic talents of our women in PNG before we can promote them overseas because we need to know how they feel about their art, we need to feel their passion and we need to empower them to share their skills and natural talent and in doing so to promote PNG as the rich tapestry of artistic expressions that she is.

A stunning woven basket adorned with shells.

Finally, at the government to government level, I drew particular attention to a comment made to me by a very wise lady at the Queensland Museum on Friday afternoon. She said, we need to look for and focus on our similarities rather than on our differences in what we do and in how we want to engage with eachother. Our artwork and art are spiritual expressions that will bind us and sustain our bilateral relationship at every level. It may carry a hint of a political statement but to me it was the wisest thing I have ever heard in terms of what the future holds for artists and the arts and it augurs well for all of us if we think that way.

Family, friends and wantoks arriving for the Gallery opening. It was drizzling but not enough to dampen the spirits.

It may be a good omen that we were gathered to celebrate the opening of a new Gallery to add to the consciousness of the existence and vibrancy of PNG and Pacific Island art.  I decided to end it there as I looked into the brown, black and white faces of those who have gathered at Bellbowrie on this rainy afternoon to celebrate with Joycelin her tremendous achievement. Indeed, for in our shared love for art and artistic expressions we are one in spirit.

The press corps...Sean (ABC) and Kevin (Kundu 2) and Kets (OTAC on Sean's right)not put off by the rain.

It was then that I also realised what a wonderful birthday celebration this has been for me, the rainy downpour above and the wet soggy ground beneath notwithstanding.

Unique Suki baskets from the Middle Fly (Western Province). The Gallery has a wonderful collection of Suki baskets.

One of Joycelin’s beautiful watercolours titled “Basket Weavers of Suki” is featured in the All Nation’s Womens’ Group recently published book, ‘Artists, Cooks & Storytellers: Moments in Papua New Guinea’.

I share with my dear friend Joycelin this mantra, “A true artist is one who strives continuously, naturally with ease, and seamlessly to bring happiness to others, who grows with their experiences, shares in  their empowerment, and takes great delight in the positive changes in their lives brought about by small selfless interventions.”

Joycelin against Mason James Lee's 'Infinity' (Fiji).

Looking back over the event on Saturday and the wonderful gathering of relatives, friends and associates afterwards, I could only think, “Well done Joycelin, you’ve done it again for PNG”!

Salute, my dear friend…

A Moving Dedication In Poetry

Marie-Rose Sau reading her poem 'On That Fateful Day', with Jeffry Feeger at work on his and Ratoos Gary's tribute painting on the far right.

I met Marie-Rose Sau, a young Papua New Guinean poet recently at the Royal Papua Yacht Club for a Bemobile-sponsored event. The event featured two iconic artists Jeffry Feeger and Ratoos Gary accompanied by an impressive group of PNG musicians led by PNG’s own Louis Armstrong, Pius Wasi.

The event called ‘Journey Through Stains’ is the brainchild of Jeffry Feeger of national renown and gaining more recognition overseas as well. It was held on Wednesday, 22nd February, 2012 to raise funds for the relatives of those who were lost in the recent MV Rabaul Queen tragedy.

I will write more about this event in a separate post. But for now let’s meet Marie-Rose through her poem, ‘On That Fateful Day’. Marie-Rose read this moving dedication but some of it was inaudible because of background noise. I wanted to kill two birds with one stone so after the event I asked her if I could feature her poem on my blog and she kindly agreed. So here it is.

 

On That Fateful Day

T’was a glorious day

The setting sun illuminating

The horizon beyond

The sea had seemed calm

As if it were asleep

Sea birds soar up above

No fear for stormy clouds untold

No one thought it would end like this

The unthinkable would happen

It was just another ordinary day

Another journey to make

Another endurance of that cruel

Bismark Sea

Yet families came to bade their

Loved ones a safe journey

Without the knowing that

For some it might

Be their last goodbyes.

Filled with enthusiasm

They rushed through the gates

Onto what might be their last trip

Onboard you

The young ones

Naïve of what was to come

Held on tightly to

Their mamas and their papas

With hearts beating with

Sheer excitement

And then finally

Amidst the commotion

You let go of your anchors one last time

And you set sail

Into the beyond

To meet your fate

Come the stormy weather

And the high seas

And Bismark could not have been too kind

To the innocent lives on board

For it attacked you with a force

You could not withstand

And you plunged

Plunged into the unknown beneath

And for if you were a being

The endless screams

You would not have missed

The frantic prayers that were begged

From quivering mouths

Prayed from hearts beating as for

As if it were their last

Yet you were but a human

And there you tumbled over

Innocence spilled overboard

Lives tossed here and there

Trying to hold on for dear life

To be spared

To be somehow saved

And yet you could not grant that

And oh how mothers cried out

Dearly for those young ones

For a son

For a daughter

For a husband

Fathers braved the merciless waves

To search for their families

Screams be heard

From already broken hearts

Hearts bleeding with fear

For a mother

For a father

A brother

A sister

An aunt

An uncle

A cousin

A friend

That they were afraid to lose

And yet you failed them

And you sank without shame

And you took with you

All that was to someone

You took the world from someone

And you brought it to the bottom

Of the dark seas

And when the sun shone

And the seas they calmed

The pain and the hurt

Of losing what one holds most dearly to

Could not be eased

The endless tears shed

And the screams

The fight to hold on

And the fight to let go

Words could not comfort

For some they found their loved ones

But some they will live another day

With a missing piece

And the knowing that that missing piece

Sank with the MV Rabaul Queen on

That fateful Thursday 2nd of February 2012…

Dedicated to those that survived and to those that were never found onboard the MV Rabaul Queen

Marie-Rose Sau

 

In her own words, Marie-Rose says, I come from a mixed parentage of Chimbu, East New Britain and Morobe. I started writing poems as early as grade 5. Because of my childhood background, writing poems became a trusted friend to me.

A way for me to speak my feelings. My thoughts, etc. I never gotten any of my writing published per se. It was just a hidden hobby that I kept.

I wrote this poem, because I just lost someone very recently and although it wasn’t as tragic as the Rabaul Queen. That pain of enduring an ordeal like that cannot be described. So I try to write from my own experience of losing a loved one and try to relate that to the ordeal that the victims and those that have lost their loved ones.

I have realized that when, someone dies, in such a way, it is only right to pay tribute to them. for all that they have endured, in some ways, it reminds one that one day later in life, just maybe, something tragic might happen and a stranger will pay tribute too. For me to write that, it somehow gives me some sort of inner peace to say goodbye to the souls of those that were lost.”

I wanted to feature Marie-Rose not only because of this moving piece that she has dedicated to both the survivors and the lost ones but also because it has been a long time for me to hear a poem from another PNG woman as well as meet her which is such a privilege.

Marie-Rose has recently created a group ‘Poetry PNG’ on Facebook. This is a treasure trove of PNG poetry and writing talent being uncovered. It’s illuminating and inspiring stuff. Check it out.

I am featuring Marie-Rose because I want to proactively start promoting PNG women writers whose stars are rising steadily in the PNG writers’ skies following on the impressive heels of such national greats as Nora Vagi Brash who is a poet and playright and many more accomplished and yet to be discovered PNG women poets.

I hope that more PNG women will find their voices through poetry and I wish them confidence, courage and commitment to their art.