Ömie people, Dahorurajé clan, Godibehi village, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea
Hehi uehorëro (In her wisdom) 2006
natural pigments on nioge (woman's barkcloth skirt)
99.0 x 82.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of David Baker, 2007
© The artist, courtesy Ömie Nemiss Incorporated
Wisdom of the Mountain is the first exhibition of contemporary art from Papua New Guinea to be presented at the NGV. It celebrates the 21st-century expression of an art form practised exclusively by Ömie women that is less conspicuous and visually spectacular than better-known forms of Oceanic art: carved ancestor figures, masks, or weapons. It therefore challenges commonly held misconceptions that the artist in Oceanic society is anonymous and male, and that the best works are ritual objects located in an ancient immutable past.
The thirty-four nioge (barkcloths) by fourteen Ömie women artists from Oro Province in Papua New Guinea reveal the beauty and spiritual resonance of designs for Spider Web, Bark of the Trees, Climbing Vine and Mountains: customary creations dyed onto the cloth with fluid complexity. The designs, echoing body tattoos, affirm the artists’ identity and intimate affinity with place.
Ömie women have been producing nioge for sale for around five years and have developed an assurance and facility of technique by working consistently in an exacting medium. Each nioge uses materials from the mountainous rainforest homeland of the Ömie and forms an organic veil beaten from paper mulberry bark on which an exquisite visual music is articulated with bush dyes.
Many of the aesthetic properties specific to Ömie nioge derive from the interplay of vegetal dyes with the rough surface of cloth beaten from bark of specific trees in a practice accompanied by harmonious singing that originated before time and corresponds intimately with the magical power of female fecundity. The colours and materiality of nioge are palpable elements of the artist's homeland that summon its gardens, plant forms, cosmology and music of performance into an exhibition space.
The Ömie nioge created to hang on walls in exhibitions exist in a rare state of transition. The exhibits selected for Wisdom of the Mountain are created for the global contemporary art market at one and the same time as Ömie women are making and wearing the very same signs and symbols they live by in an organic process that mirrors that of the first Ömie practitioner, before time. Engaging with Ömie nioge, fashioned with definitive finesse from organic materials, the viewer is filled with awe. The articulate drawings reverberate with an aura of women’s inner power, blood and spirit, which is transmitted by the artists’ passionate conviction, truth to materials and honouring of culture.