Art and Creativity in Papua New Guinea with Dr. Michael Mel

03 NOVEMBER 2020

The Art Show with Namila Benson

ABC National Radio Broadcast on Wed 16 Sep 2020, 10:05 am

To mark 45 years of Independence for Papua New Guinea, we explore the role that art has played in the country’s development and engagement with Australia since 1975. We speak with performance artist, curator, and Manager of Pacific and International Collections at Australian MuseumDr Michael Mel, and take a look at The ‘meri’ project, a new work that uses vision and sound to examine cultural identity and gender from PNG women’s perspectives, by artist Wendy Mocke.

Duration: 52min 57sec


Summary and main take-aways from the interview – Gregory Bablis

Re-examine how education is making the learned culture central to our human being while making the culture of our upbringing peripheral.

Language is not enough. Words are not enough. You need to wear your culture, act or perform your culture.

When we talk about development in PNG we need to really unpack and then repack what development means locally for us.

Art is not done or performed just for the sake of it. Every performance or art piece has practical meaning to people’s lives for instance in mourning or bride price rituals and so on.

Western art often has a disconnect to the sociality of human beings in that a painting for instance can be hung on a wall and admired for its aesthetic values and the type of emotions or thoughts it inspires and that’s it. But Papua New Guinean art is connected with relationships of the past, enacted in the present with the intention of maintaining those same values and relationships in the future.

The legacies of Western art continue to dog PNG in the ways that our arts are framed and made to appear static.

Museums in actual sense are how our art and cultures have been framed by Western historical trajectories. We need to begin reinterpreting these and offering alternative / indigenous histories. We need to bring out our cultures and live our histories and then say “this is the alternative”. For instance, in Rabaul, the COVID19 pandemic is affecting the availability and access to cash monies so more local people are looking to reconceptualise and consider again the use of traditional shell monies. Maybe the pandemic has brought about a need for us to revisit the strengths and wisdom of some of our traditional Papua New Guinean ways. We should take this as an opportunity to reposition ourselves and our development priorities to put us in a more favourable place to approach the next 45 years.

We need to begin reframing the perception of PNG as seen through some of the types of art popularly displayed in foreign museums and galleries.

PNG is a land of thousands of tribes and so tropes like the “fuzzy wuzzy angels”, “green shadows” or “the carrier”, provide a common ancestry for a presently unified nation.

War aside though, we need to diversify cultural engagements with Australia, but more so internally, and begin to highlight the shared histories that can inform national narratives for PNG. 



A poem inspired by Dr Michael Mel’s independence interview and wisdom on Independence Day 2020 – Gregory Bablis

We are 45,  
Because of COVID we may not celebrate as normally as we might  
Many challenges perch on the horizon within sight  
Yet, let the vibrancy of our democracy incite,  
A national pride to strengthen our resolve  
So that the next generation, on our backs and toil,  
Take flight into the future for another forty-five. 

Original broadcast can be found at

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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