Papua New Guinea has a wonderfully rich cultural heritage and this certainly extends to its artwork. The diversity and vibrancy displayed in this area are quite astounding but that shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider there are over 700 different tribal groups throughout the country. Artworks range from beautifully carved wooden sculptures to imposing masks of all sizes as well as pottery and even face painting.
In this first post in our ‘Art and tribal artefacts of PNG’ series, we take a closer look at the inspiration behind some of these PNG artworks as well as give you some ideas about where you can find these unique pieces.
Inspiration and tools of the trade
People are inspired to create art from a great many things and PNG artists are no different. They draw their influence from a wide range of avenues, such as their religious or spiritual beliefs and their environment (which includes their flora, fauna and animals).
Artists are keen to showcase the natural beauty of PNG in their art so often use local orange wood to carve facial sculptures and masks. They then use shells, native grass fronds and cassowary feathers as decoration.
PNG art and artefacts are also well known for their vibrant colours. Many artists use paints made from native plants combined with other ingredients – such as sap and clay – to decorate their paintings and carvings.
Local area art
When it comes to tribal art, PNG has all bases covered. One of the most striking is the Haus Tambaran or Spirit House in the Middle Sepik region. This amazing structure is the central building in most villages and houses the Tambaran, a sculpture believed to be inhabited by a powerful ancestral spirit. Some Spirit Houses stand almost 25 metres high and are usually built in an inverted V shape, with beautiful hand-painted facades.
Tambanum in the East Sepik province is the largest village on the river and has much to offer the art-hungry tourist. It has an extremely active carving community with a focus on masks, netted string animal totems, spirit figures and crocodile-shaped tables. They also have a range of pottery traded in from nearby villages. Carvers can often be seen stretched out as far as the eye can see as they line up their wares outside their homes in anticipation of the passing tourist trade.
Another unique artistic experience is the ‘sing-sing’ cultural extravaganza held annually in the highland area of Mount Hagen. Tribal groups from all over PNG converge at the Mount Hagen show to celebrate the diversity of PNG’s varied cultural groups through dance and song. One of the key artistic elements showcased is the intricate face painting and elaborate tribal ware wore by group members. This year, the festival is on from 19 – 20 August.
A selection of art galleries
If you’re after an art fix but prefer an art gallery atmosphere, Port Moresby has quite a few to choose from. The Papua New Guinea National Museum & Art Gallery has three substantial buildings with a lovely mix of traditional and contemporary art. The Stret and Gamba Krai Art galleries have mostly contemporary offerings.
In recent times, modern PNG artists have been commissioned to paint murals on public buildings. These include airports and in one instance, a whole aeroplane! It’s well worth keeping your eyes peeled for these as you travel throughout PNG.
I hope you enjoyed this insight into the world of PNG’s art and artefacts. Keep a look out for the second part of ‘Art and tribal artefacts of PNG’ series as I profile some of the country’s most interesting artists.
Gudmundur (Gummi) Fridriksson, is the CEO of Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Ltd, overseeing the development of Paga Hill Estate, a world-class, master planned estate located in the heart of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Gudmundur first arrived in Papua New Guinea over 20 years ago and is passionate about sharing PNG’s natural beauty and diverse cultures with the world. Find out more about Gudmundur Fridriksson on his website: http://www.gudmundurfridriksson.com/ and about the Paga Hill Estate development at http://www.pagahillestate.com