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The Moresby Art Theatre (MAT) 2014 Art Show

PORT MORESBY - The Moresby Art Theatre (MAT) on Friday night continued its centenary year celebrations by opening the MAT 2014 Art Show, with a silent auction and prizes.

The show, held at the MAT and which opened from 7pm, showed that the art scene here in Port Moresby is alive and buzzing.

Lit up with live jazz entertainment, a lively crowd mingling over drinks and canapés, and a splendid gallery displaying over 65 artworks on the theme ‘Meri’, the MAT is an exciting place to be right now for art, music and theatre aficionados.

The art show on the weekend was one of a number of events being held this month to celebrate 100 years of amateur theatre.

When asked about the theme ‘Meri’, organiser Simon Kaldy said, “I thought it’s important an art show really hones in on a particular social theme. Art is about expressing a story, not just something that goes with just goes with your décor, curtains and rugs – it must tell a story.”

He said he was very interested to see the artist’s ideas about and interpretations of ‘Meri’.

"Responses have been amazing", said Kaldy. “From stories about the wife, mother and meri at home, to an empowered meri, or a meri experiencing domestic violence – the range has been amazing. “

He said that pregnancy has also been a common theme that artists have focused on.

Speaking with various artists, I was surprised to learn that despite the high level of technical skills displayed in the artworks, that many of them were self-taught.

This included 19-year-old artist, Lesley Wengemba of the Highlands region.

Mr Wengemba was excited about the competition and had entered two paintings depicting his mother: ‘Beauty’ and ‘Hard Work’.

“When I heard about the theme, my mother came to my mind straightaway. ‘Meri’ is not just beautiful. My mother raised me from a baby – ‘meri’ does a lot of hard work,” he said.

It was a very positive night for Mr Wengemba, who was awarded an art prize in 5th place. Prizes were also given to Michael Mape for ‘Risky Crossing’, Marlon Kuelinad for ‘Magig Warrior Dancer’, and Dima Bre for ‘Coming Home from Garden’.

Lester Raurela was awarded first prize for ‘Umbrella’, a Papua New Guinean scene depicting women in a marketplace.

In his speech preceding the winner announcement, Mr Kaldy thanked sponsors of the event: BSP, Theodist, Beachside Brasserie, Lamana Hotel, Brian Bell, Boroko Foodworld and Waterfront Foodworld, Taubmans and G4S.

He said that without MAT’s corporate sponsors, events such as the art prize would not be able to take place.

He also acknowledged the volunteers who put many hours into the event.

As I wandered around the room taking in the beautiful colours, shapes and mediums that jumped from the canvasses, it was clear that the various interpretations were quite personal, but also artists did not appear afraid to make bold statements through their craft.

Local artist Purago Marabe, whose work has been featured internationally, discussed his painting ‘I’m not for sale’.

 “My sister was the first university graduate from my village about 20 years ago and became a gynaecologist” said Marabe. "The village wanted to marry her and I said no, we shouldn’t take a bride price. This is a depiction of my sister, but it’s also a personal story, as I’ve been in and out of love and I also have two beautiful daughters. This woman here is very connected to her earth, to her soul.

"She probably has a husband or child or whatever, she just should not be sold – that’s my statement as an artist.”

Judges of the art show were very impressed with both the level of talent and the wide range of responses.

Julie Fraser of BSP said that this was her first time judging an art show, and the competition was tough. She said that the two criteria they had to judge the competition was firstly, originality, and secondly, interpretation of the Meri theme.

“It was also difficult knowing a number of the artists, and also because we [the three judges] did not completely agree with each other!” she laughs.

What can be agreed upon, however, is that the artistic talent in Papua New Guinea, albeit hidden, is immense, and that the local arts community would benefit enormously from greater exposure and importantly, more public funding to allow artists to express themselves and have a means to make a living from their passion.

Both artists I spoke to on the night said that they would love to have more opportunities to have their works exhibited in the country.

“It’s only as an artist that I’ve seen about 80 per cent of the world", said Marabe.

Wenegemba, who also taught himself to paint, would also love to see more opportunities in Port Moresby to exhibit his work, saying that he has many paintings just sitting around at home. For him, the MAT Art Show has been a rare opportunity and one that he did not want to miss. [EMTV]

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