Tag Archives: Papua New Guinea

Nicholas Mangan–recreate the past for the future

Installation shot from Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Installation shot from Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Nicholas Mangan is a Melbourne artist with a strong interest in the material histories of the Pacific. His previous show at Sutton Gallery Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World concerned the history of phosphate mining in the remote Pacific island, which had become a processing centre for asylum seekers (see article). His recent show, Progress in Action, concerns struggle in 1988 by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army to close the Panguna Copper mine which was polluting their island.

Copper plate from Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Copper plate from Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Mangan’s strategy is to re-stage the BRA’s attempts to cope with the blockage of food and energy by developing new modes of self-sufficiency. Locals took to the ubiquitous coconut as a resource to sustain their existence (as told in the film Coconut Revolution). Mangan learned how to extract oil from the coconut which could then be refined as a fuel to power a generator. This energy was then used to project a film documentary montage from the time. Alongside the installation and performance were copper plates, reproducing publications such as the Bougainville Copper annual report.

Mangan’s work follows that of others who seek to re-enact past struggles, such as Tom Nicholson. What’s particularly interesting here is the contemporary relevance of the energy system that he re-creates, showing the way in which the necessity of deprivation can lead to the invention of renewable energies. As Mangan says,

Beyond the politics or history for me it always comes back to the core materials that are formed or sculpted by an ideological determination, like copper being used for capitalist extraction or the coconuts being used as the agency for an eco-revolution.

In Australia, this has particular meaning as a challenge to the way neighbouring Melanesian region can be dismissed as an ‘arc of instability’. It ranks alongside the television series Straits as a way of imaginatively connecting the continent to the oceanic web in which it is embedded.

Installation shot of documentary projection in Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Installation shot of documentary projection in Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Mangan’s work also opens up a particularly southern strategy for art making, in revealing the means of production. Exposing the supply chain works against the commodification of art by revealing the process that lies behind the product. It sociology it demonstrates the kind of creative potential in the ecological knowledge outlined by Boaventura de Sousa Santos.

Of course, it could go further. The exhibition itself is lacking a relational dimension. There is no active role played by people in Bougainville today. If only Mangan had the opportunity to visit Bougainville himself, and find ways in which they might like to become actively involved in his work.

Fortunately, the project is far from over. Mangan is in the process of shipping the installation to Brazil, where it will feature in the Mercosul Biennial at Porto Alegre. According to the curatorial statement, the biennial

gathers works together that explore different kinds of atmospheric disturbances propelling travel and social displacement, technological advancement and world development, vertical expansions in space, and transversal explorations through time.

This seems a perfect fit for Mangan and an important opportunity to have an Australian artist represented in this key South American event.

PNG Symposium on Traditional Knowledge

SAEM MAJNEP MEMORIAL SYMPOSIUM ON TRADITIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL KNOWLEDGE

To be held at the University of Goroka, 31 October – 2 November 2012

CALL FOR EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST

Ian Saem Majnep was a member of the Kalam tribe from the Kaironk Valley in Madang Province who was born around 1948. He worked closely with the late Ralph Bulmer, the Foundation Professor of Anthropology at the University of PNG, and also with Andrew Pawley, now Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at the Australian National University, on the documentation of the Kalam language and traditional environmental knowledge. Saem’s work on the documentation of traditional Kalam knowledge was recognized through the award of an honorary doctorate by the University of PNG in 1989. The Saem Majnep Memorial Symposium (‘the Symposium’) is named in honour one of PNG’s first internationally recognized indigenous knowledge experts, who sadly passed away in 2007. The basic aim of the Symposium is to enhance the capacity of universities in PNG to train students in the appreciation and documentation of traditional environmental knowledge, engage them in deeper processes of interaction with the local holders of such knowledge, and involve them in wider processes of biocultural education, expression, and revitalization.

Background

Indigenous knowledge holders are increasingly demanding recognition for their practices without that recognition undermining the position of their knowledge as a socially embedded process. Recognition of Intellectual Property Rights has proved to be an inadequate route to deal with this issue. Whatever ‘indigenous knowledge’ was and is, it is also undergoing transformation in the contemporary world – it does not exist in a vacuum, but is embedded in the changing relationships internal to indigenous communities, and between members of these communities and external interest groups. The development of new models for the documentation and dissemination of such knowledge must therefore be based on recognition of at least three issues:

  1. The growing awareness of external threats to the reproduction of indigenous knowledge and practices, offset by a growing awareness in indigenous communities of the importance of preserving these things for future generations.
  2. The desire of indigenous peoples to present themselves to the outside world as knowledge holders and to gain recognition of their stewardship of lands and environments based on relations of mutual constitution rather than alienable possession.
  3. The opportunities presented by new technologies for recording and transmitting indigenous knowledge and practices in digitally mediated forms.

There is growing evidence that most of the students now entering universities in PNG come from urban family backgrounds, have little experience of rural village life, and are largely unfamiliar with traditional environmental or ecological knowledge (TEK). There is already some provision for the design and delivery of courses relating to TEK in the PNG university system, but much more could be done to improve the resources available for the teaching of such courses. Although some university graduates find employment in non-government or community-level organizations that have some interest in the documentation or revaluation of TEK, they have often received very little in the way of relevant training while at university. The same is true of the vast majority of graduates who find employment in organizations that have no such interest. As the years go by, an increasing proportion of the individuals who count as members of the national elite are losing all connection with the forms of knowledge possessed by village-level experts who commonly have very little in the way of formal education. Some provision is already made for the teaching of TEK in PNG’s secondary school curriculum, but there is again a notable shortage of suitable curriculum materials. The University of Goroka can play a key role in helping to fill this gap because of its role in training and current and future secondary school teachers.

Outcomes of the Symposium

We expect the short-term outcomes of the Saem Majnep Memorial Symposium to include:

  1. A review of what has so far been achieved in the documentation and dissemination of TEK in and from PNG, with particular focus on partnerships between scientific and local experts, and on the relationship between research and education.
  2. A review of new technologies for documentation and dissemination of TEK at local, national and international scales, with appropriate recognition of issues involving intellectual property rights.
  3. An outline for the first edition of a textbook or manual to be used in training tertiary students (including secondary school teachers) in practical techniques for the documentation and dissemination of TEK.
  4. Plans for development of additional funding proposals for development of institutional capacity and resources to undertake such documentation and dissemination through the formal education system in PNG.
  5. Plans to connect this type of activity with the integration of TEK into local-level land use and resource management systems in PNG.

Longer term plans to build institutional capacity to document and disseminate TEK in PNG will be based on these short-term outcomes. All participants will be asked to formally approve the use of their contributions to the Symposium in any future publication or in any document used for teaching purposes.

Organisation of the Symposium

Key participants in the Symposium will include:

  • Scientific and local experts who have been involved in the documentation of TEK in PNG through partnerships of the kind pioneered by Ralph Bulmer and Saem Majnep;
  • Individuals with particular expertise and experience in teaching university students about TEK in PNG;
  • Individuals with particular expertise and experience in developing the use of new technologies for the documentation and dissemination of TEK; and
  • People with a professional interest in the potential use of TEK as a means to promote the conservation of biological diversity or the management of local ecosystems in PNG.

The Symposium organisers are planning to invite approximately 30 participants from outside Goroka, including 10 local experts in TEK from Eastern Highlands and surrounding provinces with road connections to Goroka. In addition, we plan to invite another 20 participants from Goroka itself, including UOG staff and staff of partner organisations based in Goroka.

The Symposium will be advertised in PNG’s national newspapers, as well as by means of posters in UOG, in order to boost attendance by interested members of the public (including schoolteachers) from Goroka and surrounding areas, as well as by interested staff and students of UOG (including school-teachers taking in-service courses). Part if not all of the Symposium proceedings will be conducted in Tok Pisin in order to facilitate the participation of local indigenous knowledge experts who do not speak English.

A Symposium Steering Committee (SSC) has already been established at UOG. The SSC is responsible for the identification of individuals to be invited to the Symposium and for sending out the invitations, but is receiving support and advice from partner organisations in the identification of individuals to be invited to the Symposium from outside Goroka.

Expressions of Interest

If you would like to be funded to participate in the Symposium, please send a short (maximum 200-word abstract) of the topic on which you would like to speak and an even shorter (maximum 100-word) note about your past and current interest in the documentation and dissemination of TEK in PNG to:

If you are able to fund your own travel to Goroka and would like to participate as an observer or discussant, please just send a short note about your past and current interest in the documentation and dissemination of traditional environmental knowledge in PNG.

A Symposium program will be developed when the list of likely expert participants has been established and they have indicated the topics on which they would like to speak.

We aim to have a draft program ready for circulation before the end of September, so would like to receive expressions of interest by Friday 21 September at the latest.

A new optimism across the Pacific

Australian film-maker John Hughes reports on this year’s Pacific Documentary Film Festival finds new dialogues opening up between islands, languages and cultures.

Fortuitous circumstances (for me, not so much for Harriet) led to an invitation to Tahiti to join the jury of the Pacific Documentary Film Festival FIFO in late January 2011, standing in for the Australian Director’s Guild’s Harriet McKern. At short notice Harriet had to decline FIFO’s offer due to pressing work commitments with the fast approaching ADG Conference. My hesitation took about as long as it takes a falling coconut to hit the ground cracking.

FIFO is in its 8th year and is expanding its horizons. This year the festival hosted a pitch session (for the 2nd time), screenings of short films from the region, a (drama) script development workshop, and a conference on regional media and broadcasting. The short films screening included a number of Australian films. FIFO has developed a partnership with the French Cabourg International Film Festival, and this year screened Cabourg’s 2010 prize winning feature and short drama. Australian films have traditionally done well at FIFO; last year a major prize went to Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Bastardy, and Charlie Hill-Smith’s Strange Birds in Paradise was among the films screened.

Poster for 'This Way of Life' directed by Thomas Burstyn

Poster for 'This Way of Life' directed by Thomas Burstyn

This year there were 15 documentaries selected for competition and around 30 screened out of competition. The screenings were very well attended, with most films screening on three or four occasions over the six days of the festival. Filmmakers from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and elsewhere in the region attended. A number of Australian films were selected and two won major awards. The Jury’s Grand Prix went to Contact (Bentley Dean, Martin Butler, 78 minutes, 2009) and one of the three Special Jury Prizes went to Kuru: the Science and the Sorcery (Rob Bygott, 52 minutes, 2010). The other two Jury prize winners were New Zealand films. Trouble is My Business (Juliette Veber, 83 minutes, 2009), an observatory documentary dealing with the travails of an energetic vice-principal in an East Auckland school looking after Islander and Maori students and This Way of Life (Thomas Burstyn, 86 minutes, 2009), a sympathetic portrait of struggles and utopian life-style of Maori Christian couple Peter and Colleen Karena, their six kids and 50 horses, as they deal with family trauma in New Zealand’s idyllic Ruahine Mountains.

The People’s Choice audience award went to Lucien Kimitete (Dominique Agniel, 52 minutes, 2010), a Canal+ television account of the life and work of a much loved Marquesas politician and activist who disappeared along with his colleague Boris Léontieff and two associates when their small plane crashed into the sea in May 2002. No wreckage from the plane was ever found. The film acknowledges that many people in the region harbour suspicions about the plane’s disappearance, as Lucien Kimitete and Boris Léontieff were expected to assume power in immanent elections and their effective advocacy of local self-determination threatened the status quo. It is not an investigative film, but rather a wistful celebration of Lucien’s dedication that inspired a generation with the transformative power of traditional Marquesas culture.

FIFO is deeply engaged with these questions of culture and identity across Oceania and particularly alert to the role of documentary and other media forms to the future of French Polynesia. Environmental issues are urgent – last year’s Grand Prix went to a New Zealand film on global warming in the region There Once was an Island: Te Henua E Noho (Briar March, 80 minutes, 2010) – development, underdevelopment and social issues associated with economic uncertainty are balanced against the struggle to sustain a variety of Polynesian cultural identities. ‘Authenticity’, identity politics and self-determination across Oceania animate FIFO’s purpose. Take the Australian prize winners. Bentley Dean’s Contact is a beautifully realised cinematic essay reminding us that among the histories shared by the peoples of Oceania is the devastating encounter of Indigenous peoples with European culture, and in particular its weapons of mass destruction; themes clearly recognizable in French Polynesia.

Still from Kuru

Still from Kuru

Dealing in cannibalism, sorcery, scientific animal experimentation and ‘white man’s magic’ Rob Bygott’s Kuru boldly enters treacherous story territories of anthropology and colonialism in Papua New Guinea without a skerrick of vulnerability to accusations of ‘Orientalism’. The film delivers a deeply moving account of the value of meticulous ethnographic documentation and rigorous scientific curiosity that resulted in the discovery of a new mode of long gestation transmissible disease. The film works through conventions of the science and history specialist factual genre; but here the filmmaker has nourished the documentary content, transcending the tendency of specialist factual to flatten emotional engagement. Rob Bygott’s treatment has deployed shockingly confronting archival footage against warmly intimate testimony from the Fore people of New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands, and this combined with the persuasive humanitarianism and dedication of the film’s main protagonist Michael Alpers, offers an intellectually rich and intriguing narrative beyond both cultural and genre boundaries. The film becomes an exemplary instance of cross-cultural communications where an Indigenous community of Oceania are at the centre of the world.

New Zealanders or Australians made most of the films in competition this year, and were most prominent in the documentary program and short films screened. Much of the work originating locally owes a lot to magazine television. The Polynesian world is abundantly rich in powerful documentary stories. Local people may not yet have had an opportunity to gather together the resources necessary to articulate their own stories in their own documentary voices. Which brings me to the conferences.

The (3rd) ‘Digital Encounters Polynesia’ conference and (5th) Pacific Television Conference held in conjunction with FIFO delivered results. Digital broadcast has recently extended Polynesia’s television offerings, with the familiar attendant questions of ‘choice’ and cultural sovereignty. And a newly installed underwater cable (‘Honotua’) owned by the French Polynesian Telco offers potential for greater broadband communications. This is the context in which there was an agreement signed between France Televisions and the ABC that will allow, among other arrangements, the two biggest media organisations in the Pacific to share footage and content recorded in the field, which will allow for a much greater diversity of content. This will increase both English and French content in the Pacific and has been a long time coming. The deal will allow more stories from English language Pacific nations to make their way to French Polynesia and also provide mechanisms for more stories from the region to make their way back into Australia. Arrangements are in train to establish a syndicate, led by the ABC that will collate and share stories and raw footage from local and regional broadcasters. The conference also resolved to work toward a Pacific film fund to act as an incentive encouraging more independent film production from the diverse Pacific nations. This may take a little longer.

Carol Hirschfeld; Photo Phil Doyle

Carol Hirschfeld; Photo Phil Doyle

At FIFO this year the ABC was well represented by Radio Australia. Neither SBS nor ABC TV participated in the festival, conferences or the pitch environment. However New Zealand’s Maori TV provided an encouraging model of progressive television in the region. FIFO Jury member and Head of Programming at Maori TV Carol Hirschfeld is a strong supporter of documentary. She recognises the opportunities that creative documentary offers for informed dialogue across the region.

For Maori television documentaries are absolutely vital. Our two main free to air broadcasters in New Zealand are increasingly divesting themselves ­or choosing not to run documentaries – so this is an area (…) we can grow. We are the only free to air broadcaster that has a documentary slot for both local and international documentaries. So in the next five years I see our channel as being the dominant free to air broadcaster of documentaries in New Zealand; that is why a festival such as FIFO (…) will help us fulfil that in the next five years. (Carol Hirschfeld)

Australian documentary filmmakers may envy this commitment. Overall there is a sense of optimism as new networks of culturally diverse media production and distribution emerge across the region. These kinds of events are always eye-openers. We have tended to assume Australia as a kind of European outpost in the Asia-Pacific geography. There is another welcome perspective available in this Oceania imaginary so generously hosted by FIFO.

Apart from the warm and convivial hospitality from the festival, non-stop inspiring meetings with the like-minded from around the world and the region, and the exquisite tropical island environments, what’s a take-home message from FIFO? Don’t miss it, it will do you good. Thanks heaps Harriet; I owe you.

Originally written for the ADG (Australian Director’s Guild) newsletter

An anything but silent night about Melanesia

Kirk Huffman and Sana Balai

Kirk Huffman and Sana Balai

Given the unseasonably cold weather, it was a strong turn out at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies for the ‘Silence must be heard’ discussion about Melanesian culture. A large contingent from Papua New Guinea ensured a lively discussion following about the relative benefits of development in the region.

Sana Balai began with a haunting account of her childhood experience in Buka Island listening to waves at night for a sign of the chief’s passing away. She recounted many fascinating incidents she has experienced as a curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, dealing with stories from the region that she knows are not permissible for her to hear.

Kirk Huffman compressed his extraordinary experience working in Vanuatu for nearly 40 years, defending the traditional way of life against development. In one remarkable story, he spoke about the taboo associated with the chief’s voice and the interlocutor who cancelled any accidental hearing of the chief by use of a wooden instrument. He also recounted the Vanuatu traditional view of the ‘world of steel’ represented by Westerners, and the village that refused to speak any more after the white men had captured their words in recording devices.

This event planted the seed for a future symposium that might fully explore the politics of silence in our region. Many questions were raised:

  • How does the Western crusade against secrets, such as Wikileaks, engage with societies whose traditions are based on knowledge restrictions?
  • Can silence be seen as a positive action, rather than a withholding?
  • How does this compare to the place of silence in Western culture, such as ‘the right to remain silent’ and ‘a minute’s silence’ of respect?
  • Are there protocols for Westerners who are working with Melanesian societies that builds trust in confidentiality?
  • How can knowledge be understood as the protection of secrets as much as spread of information?

There is clearly much more to learn from Melanesian culture. There is now the prospect of a future event where peoples of the region can share the understanding, commitment and sounds of silence.

When Silence Must be Heard: Knowledge in the Pacific

A dialogue with Sana Balai and Kirk Huffman

Thursday 12 May October 2011 7:30-9pm, Institute of Postcolonial Studies, North Melbourne

‘Knowledge wants to be free’ is a mantra of the information revolution. The concept of enlightenment is based on the assumption that knowledge is a good in itself, and that any limit on its access is a feudal barrier that fosters prejudice. The recent rise of Wikileaks continues this campaign of liberation through transparency.

But should all knowledge be publically accessible? The Indigenous Fijian Vanua Research Framework advocated by Unaisi Nabobo-Baba contextualises knowledge in the interests of Pacific peoples. Within this framework, knowledge is exchanged with the same kinds of obligations as other gifts. There are times, when silence is the most appropriate form of expression.

In the region, museums play a key role in presenting traditional cultures to the broader public and the western gaze. So how do museums negotiate their public mission to put other cultures on display with opposing Indigenous protocols to control knowledge by ritual means.

Two speakers with extensive experience in putting Melanesian culture into museums will reflect on how to negotiate across knowledge systems.

Sana Balai

Sana Balai

Sana (Susan) Balai was born on Buka Island, Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. An applied science graduate, Sana spent more than 13 years working for Bougainville Copper Limited (CRA/Rio Tinto subsidiary) in the Analytical, Environmental Research and Development Studies Laboratories (Bougainville, PNG), Pilbara Laboratories Niugini Limited (Lae, PNG), and PNG Analytical Laboratories (Lae, PNG). Sana began her museum career in the Indigenous department at Melbourne Museum, 1997-2002, which led to her employment at the National Gallery of Victoria in July 2003. A member of Pacific islands’ Advisory committee to the Melbourne Museum, 1994-99 and a member of the planning committee of Pacific Islands’ festival held in association with the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Sana is an active member of the Papua New Guinea community in Melbourne; she was recently appointed Community Liaison (Victoria) for the Board of Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies in April 2010. Sana is an assistant curator of Indigenous art/curator of Pacific art with the National Gallery of Victoria.

K.Huffman pursued studies in anthropology, prehistoric archaeology, and ethnology at the universities of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. Beginning with fieldtrips into parts of the Maghreb, and the northern and western Sahara, he has concentrated on working with traditional cultures in Vanuatu since 1973. From 1977 until the end of 1989 he was Curator (National Museum) of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, and still returns regularly to Vanuatu, where he has so far spent just over 18 years working with the peoples and cultures. He has also worked with traditional cultures in parts of South America, the Solomons, and with peasant cultures in the western Mediterranean. Based in Sydney, he is currently Honorary Curator, Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Vanuatu; Member, Scientific Committee, Museum of Tahiti and the Islands, Punaauia, Tahiti (French Polynesia); Corresponding Member, Institute of Advanced Studies, (university of ) Nantes, France; Research Associate, Australian Museum (Sydney), and Honorary Associate, Macleay Museum, University of Sydney. He has published and lectured widely in several languages, and has been involved in the production of numerous cultural radio and television documentary programmes from the 1970s to the present day.

Michael Mel – ‘The arts as tools for social and cultural transformation in Papua New Guinea’

Dr Michael Mel (University of Goroka, Papua New Guinea)
‘The arts as tools for social and cultural transformation in Papua New Guinea’

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Thursday, 17 December, 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm, UTS Building 10, Level 5, Room 580

Abstract: This talk will explore the historical and contemporary role of artistic practices as a vehicle for dialogue and exchange between individuals and communities in Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinean communities have a long history of the arts being elemental in community life and exchange. However colonial experiences have disrupted these community structures, leaving Papua New Guineans situated between traditional and contemporary Western life. There is great need now to reassert and renew the arts as a vehicle for community engagement and dialogue. What artistic opportunities can be created to offer Papua New Guineans a real chance to build processes that have a foundation in their own cultural context while at the same time engaging, challenging and confronting those from the outside?

The Komuniti Tok Piksa Project, between the Centre for Health Communication (UTS) and the University of Goroka, focuses on using the arts as a process for dialogue and exchange in order to challenge Papua New Guineans on matters relating to HIV/AIDS.

Performance artist, thinker, lecturer, curator and teacher, Dr Michael Mel is Associate Professor in cultural education and indigenous processes of art and Pro Vice Chancellor (Academic) at the University of Goroka. Renowned for his expertise in the traditional arts and oral traditions of his people, he uses performance to explore issues of cultural identity and dispossession. Through works that engage the senses using music, dance, body painting and decoration, he encourages Papuan New Guineans to take pride in their indigenous cultures and to challenge assumptions of colonialism. For his work in promoting and celebrating indigenous culture and development in Papua New Guinea, Dr Mel received the Prince Claus Award in 2006. He was both the first Pacific Islander and the first artist to be recognized in this way.

Please RSVP to [email protected]