Saturday, February 28, 2009


an exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
University of Cambridge

March 18-April 18 2009

Opening event, with lecture by Georgina Beier, on March 17, from 3 pm

Mathias Kauage was an exuberant painter and a founding figure of modern art in the Pacific.

Kauage (c. 1944-2003) was born in Chimbu Province in the Papua New Guinea highlands. In the late 1960s he was employed as a labourer in Port Moresby and was inspired by an exhibition of drawings by a fellow-Highlander, Timothy Akis. Like Akis, he was encouraged by Georgina Beier. Together with her husband Ulli, Georgina influentially supported contemporary art, theatre, and literature in Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and elsewhere.

Kauage’s work evolved rapidly. Early on he drew fantastic creatures inspired by Chimbu myth, but soon progressed to scenes of Moresby town life and political events. Embracing colour, he went on to produce major paintings around Papua New Guinea’s Independence in 1975, aspects of colonial history, and his own experience – not least his meeting with the Queen, who awarded him an OBE in 1998. His later works were often signed ‘Kauage – Artist of PNG’.

This exhibition foregrounds a previously unexhibited group of early Kauage drawings and beaten copper panels, which form part of a generous donation to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology by Dame Marilyn Strathern (William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology, 1993-2008), who conducted fieldwork in the PNG Highlands and in Port Moresby from the 1960s onward.
Visitors to the exhibition also get the chance to listen to a rare early recording of Kauage singing and playing Chimbu instruments such as a bamboo flute.

‘Kauage: Artist of Papua New Guinea’ is a revelation of Kauage’s creativity. His unique intelligence and visual inventiveness suggest new ways of thinking about the emergence of ‘modern art’ beyond the West.

On Tuesday March 17, a public lecture and symposium coincide with the exhibition opening. Georgina Beier will speak on Creating his own tradition at 2.30 pm in the McDonald Seminar Room, in the McDonald Institute (off Downing Street, directly adjacent to the Museum). Helena Regius, Ruth Phillips, and Nicholas Thomas will contribute to a panel discussion.

The Museum plans in due course to publish a catalogue of the collection, together with Marilyn’s previous donation of textiles from Hara Hara Prints, a screenprint workshop in which Georgina Beier also played a key role (see Strathern, ‘Emblems, ornaments and inversions of value’ in Kuechler and Were (eds), The Art of Clothing, UCL Press 2005). In the context of this project, we would be most interested to hear from anthropologists and others who were in Port Moresby in the 1970s or subsequently, and own original works by Kauage or contemporaries, and/or may be able to help with relevant information.
Nicholas Thomas
njt35 [at]

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