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.
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…”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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…