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…

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.