As a contemporary artist and museum professional, I was initially cynical about participating in this digital residency. My main concern was that I would, yet again, need to build relationships with community or risk existing relationships with Pacific people on behalf of the museum to gain some form of cultural capital, whilst managing the expectations of what Pacific community would get in return. I started working on the outside of museum collections as an artist. When I worked on the inside of a museum in Australia and engaged with Pacific community, I realised that I involuntarily brought the colonial baggage of the institution with me as an employee.
My interest in this topic of Abot (boat) songs was sparked by community dialogue with New Guinea Islands community of history relating to Melanesians that were transported by ship as indentured labourers by German trading firm Deutsche Handel-und Plantagengessellshcaft (D.H.P.G.) to work on plantations in Samoa between 1864 – 1921
As a solo female traveller I stood out like a sore thumb and was targeted by mostly men who tried many times to take advantage of my solo freedom during my two months in Europe. But there was one man, a kind Algerian man, who saw me wandering alone along the picturesque harbour with my Pentax SLR. It was my last day in Marseille, I was killing time, taking snaps of the colourful fishing boats, before boarding an overnight train to Basque country in Spain. This man had a very small shop in the harbour of Marseille. He spoke very little english, but was able to gesture to me, the kinds of things that he sold.
The body language of each individual in this image speaks volumes to me. Compositionally the framing of this image shows who is important and who is valued, who has power and agency, who doesn’t and who is centred in visual history? When I think about German and Gunantuna relationships, I wonder how this German planter and this Tolai woman communicated? How did they meet? Initially when I first viewed this image I wondered if this child was or is one of the many children who were taken into Vunapope catholic mission by German nuns and bishops, that led to the Unserdeutsch community that exists today in Brisbane. I have lots of questions that I hope to be able to answer and understand during my fellowship research that will feed into my PhD photographic research of Papuan women in front of the lens.
Of the 31,000 listed entries in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, only 31 biographies are of Pacific people, 2 of these are of Pacific women. My research and highlighting of the incredible 45 F.M.I. Sisters was noted by the workshop organisers as "the perfect blend of creative, public facing and historically informed scholarship that pushes the boundaries of biography as a discipline."
In the year that was, I made a concerted effort to read more books either written by Papua Niuginan authors or about PNG women's practices. Despite this year throwing us a huge curveball, expanding my literary knowledge of my matrilineal homeland and it's people remained a priority. I'm grateful to my wantok meri Deb Chapman, whose Brunswick home I refer to as the unofficial PNG embassy for Melbourne. Her home is full of Papua Niugini artwork, conversations and occasionally wantoks from home. Every time I leave Deb's place my son and I usually leave with books.
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.
In January 2018 I spent three weeks developing a new work on site at Testing Grounds in the City of Melbourne. Trade Stories was an invitation to listen and share the history of materials exchanged and traded between Pacific Islander and European people during the 19th Century. As artist in residence, I requested 'collective labour' to thread a vast amount beads to develop a site responsive work.
Sister Angelica F.M.I. was born in 1930 her village is Nanga Nanga in East new Britain. She joined the F.M.I Congregation in 1952. Father Damian showed her a picture of an African woman Sister Kosila, which became an inspiration and her calling to God.