Remaking Midi (Middi)

Image © Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman
Middi from Pacific Collection, Australian Museum. Image: Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman

In 2010 I became mesmerised and truly fascinated by a cultural treasure that I discovered in the storage vaults of the Australian Museum, Sydney Australia.  I was given a guided tour of the Pacific Collection by artist Taloi Havini.  This was my first time in entering a space where there were so many objects from the Pacific region.  The tour started with the Polynesian and Micronesian collections and ended in the Melanesian collections.  It was here that I spotted ‘tabu’ – Tolai shell currency but used in a different application.

Four years later I commenced a long awaited inquiry into understanding the cultural significance of this object called Middi (Midi), made by the Tolai people of East New Britain, Papua New Guinea.  Within museums Middi are referenced as shell collars. 

Since undertaking and completing this research, I have discovered many things. The middi is part of a group of body adornments specific to Tolai culture called ‘Kurkurua’, which were impacted and culturally devalued through colonialism, religion and trade. Many museums all over the world hold these beautiful and ornate objects of high status, which can only be worn by Luluai; men of high status.

Returning the middi back to the Tolai community in Rabaul in Papua New Guinea was both a profound and life changing experience.  I gained more knowledge than what I could intellectually contain and realised that I will be doing research within my community for most likely what will be the rest of my life.  My research of Tolai middi was completed in late 2016. The middi and other works of art created part of this research has since been exhibited at the Caboolture Regional Art Gallery 2015 and Queensland Art Gallery 2016-2017.

Damien Kereku, Vunalagir Vunatarai, Tolai People 2015. Image Lisa Hilli. 739 x 492mm archival pigment print on cotton rag.

I undertook a Masters of Fine Art by Research in the School of Art, RMIT University, Melbourne Australia. Senior Supervisor: Peter Cripps and Associate Supervisor: Dr Kirsten Haydon.

An electronic copy of my MFA thesis can be downloaded via RMIT University Research Repository