In 2010 we presented what was probably the first exhibition dedicated to contemporary art from Papua New Guinea (PNG) in Scotland. The impetus was the University of St Andrews hosting the European Society of Oceanists’ conference. Its organiser Dr Tony Crook was also on Fife Contemporary’s Board and he set us the challenge of discovering work we had previously been completely unaware of.
The exhibition was initially shown at Kirkcaldy Galleries in late spring then came to the University of St Andrews’ Gateway Gallery for the summer:
- 15 May – 20 June 2010 Kirkcaldy Galleries
- 3 July – 14 August 2010 Gateway Galleries, University of St Andrews
An exhibition created by Canada’s Alcheringa Gallery with London’s Rebecca Hossack Gallery provided the core and was complemented by a focus on Mathias Kauage OBE (1944-2003) who had worked in Europe. The relatively recent development of a practice, involving the interaction between local tradition and imported concepts of innovation and techniques, was fascinating and prompted a more open comparison and evaluation of work from different cultures. Echoing our own interests, there was also a weaving together of visual art and craft.
Unexpected connections with Scotland quickly surfaced. Kauage had been a guest at the royal opening of Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art and had consequently painted some colourful images of the Queen with her handbag always featuring prominently! A Scot, Tom Craig, had been instrumental in developing art education in PNG where he was the first Director of the National Art School. He had also arranged for fellow Scot Archie Brennan, who was then working in Australia, to come over to mastermind the decoration of the new Parliament Building constructed as part of PNG’s gaining independence in 1975. Brennan worked with local craft artists to produce impressive results. Attempts to track down Tom Craig during the development of the exhibition had sadly failed. However, contact with Archie Brennan, then based in the US, resulted in our being put in touch with Tom who was now back in Scotland. It was a particular joy to bring him to the conference where he renewed his connections with PNG and was acclaimed as family.
Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh is currently planning a major Archie Brennan (1931-2019) exhibition celebrating an artist and master weaver who was once their Director. A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to enable this to happen and if you would like to contribute, please use this link.