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Media Release • 17 Nov 09

Wisdom of the Mountain: Art of the Ömie

Opening 27th November, the National Gallery of Victoria will present a beautiful selection of over thirty barkcloths in Wisdom of the Mountain: Art of the Ömie, the Gallery’s first exhibition of contemporary art from Papua New Guinea.

The Ömie, a small tribe of less than 2000 people, live on the steep, south-eastern slopes of Mount Lamington, Oro Province in Papua New Guinea.

The art of making barkcloths (nioge) is practised exclusively by Ömie women and is created from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree which has been softened into thin sheets by a process of beating.

Each nioge is formed using materials from the mountainous rainforest homeland of the Ömie.

Judith Ryan, Senior Curator Indigenous Art said: “The works 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.”

The first woman to tread on Ömie territory created a nioge to reward her husband for providing her with the ability to give birth. That nioge was cut in two and worn by the first couple, who are the ancestors of today’s Ömie.

Sana Balai, Assistant Curator Indigenous Art, NGV said: “The barkcloths reveal the beauty and spiritual resonance seen in the designs for the spiderweb, cassowary eggs, backbone of fish, jungle vine and mountains. The designs, echoing body tattoos, acknowledge the artists’ identity and affinity with place.”

By painting the tattoos that once decorated their ancestors’ bodies on barkcloth, Ömie women have ensured their customs will not be forgotten.

Frances Lindsay, Deputy Director, NGV said: “This exhibition celebrates the twenty first century expression of a living art form practised exclusively by Ömie women. Wisdom of the Mountain honours the art and culture of the Pacific, showcasing the exquisite barkcloths of the Ömie as one of the world’s great art traditions.”

The Ömie are a proud and resilient people who have endured many challenges in their history: Western colonisation, Christianity, World War II, tribal war with their Orokaivan neighbours, the eruption of Mount Lamington in 1951 and the natural disaster of 2008.

“The Ömie’s willpower and determination to survive are reflected in their living art, songs and dances and this exhibition is a great opportunity to share this fascinating art form with Gallery visitors,” said Ms Lindsay.

Wisdom of the Mountain: Art of the Ömie will be on display at NGV International from 27 November 2009 to 21 March 2010. NGV International is open 10am–5pm, closed Tuesdays. Admission to this exhibition is free.

For further information visit ngv.vic.gov.au


Image caption:
Savodobehi dancers, Jaipa village 2004
Photo: David Baker