Women's Wealth

Women’s Wealth is an art project that engages with the ongoing importance and richness of women’s creativity within the predominantly matrilineal societies of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and nearby provinces of the Solomon Islands.

The project was launched on Buka Island in April 2017 and presented as part of ‘The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT9) in Brisbane from 24 November 2018 to 14 July 2019. The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) is the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art’s flagship, internationally recognised exhibition series.

This website is dedicated to the late Carol Haleha Golu.

Our Story

Women’s Wealth is a collaboration between the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) and three Buka women: co-curator Sana Balai and artists Taloi and Marilyn Havini. Inspiration for the project originated in these women’s shared dream to develop more nuanced understandings of the Bougainville and Solomon Islands region, and to provide Bougainville women with opportunities to engage in new creative conversations.

The project reconnects Bougainville women with artists from the nearby Solomon Islands.

Although these regions share strong linguistic and cultural ties, they have been divided by political boundaries. Four artists from the region who live in Australia and work in similar media have also participated in Women’s Wealth, enabling exciting new conversations between First Nations peoples across the three countries involved.

A small group of drawings documenting social change in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, created in Gagan by Herman Somuk and Gregory Dausi Moah between the 1930s and 1970s, accompanies the project, as well as paintings from the ‘Images of the Crisis’ series of workshops developed by the Papua New Guinea Red Cross in Bougainville in 2012.

All of the artists involved not only honour significant cultural forms but also experiment with new materials and presentations in order to increase audiences’ understanding of this region, its culture, its history and its people.

Place

The Autonomous Region of Bougainville comprises two main islands, Bougainville and Buka, as well as many smaller islands and atolls.

Archaeological, linguistic and historical studies demonstrate that the region is not composed of isolated and remote landforms but is an archipelago where people, place and ideas continue to be linked by the sea. Some of the longest and most enduring connections are to the peoples, cultures and lands of the Solomon Islands archipelago: in fact, the region was for a time known as the Northern Solomons Province.

Communities throughout this region were connected and extended through long-distance voyaging. Some of the earliest voyages, starting around 1000 BCE, were made by Lapita peoples sailing eastwards from Taiwan across the Pacific. By the eighteenth century the region’s population was a complex mix of cultural and linguistic groups, all with strong ties to the ocean. Movement across the warm waters of the Pacific continued in canoes, with peoples travelling between chieftainships as part of extensive exchange networks and warfare.

Central Oro Morobe New Britain New Ireland East New Britain West New Britain New Ireland SolomonIslands Isabel Province Central Province Western Province Choiseul Province Solomon Sea Bougainville Choiseul Province Buin Arawa Siwai Buka Island Gagan Atolls group Bougainville Island

Artists

Workshop

Central to the development of the Women’s Wealth project was a ten-day creative workshop held at the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre at Chabai in North Bougainville.

Ten women from across the island as well as four from the Solomon Islands and four from Australia participated. Artists were asked to bring materials to create new works and encouraged to share knowledge and techniques within the boundaries of their cultural protocols.

Over the duration of the workshop, language barriers and cultural differences dissipated as the women established a rhythm of living and working together. The group learnt how to dye pandanus with noni root and create pinch pots, experimented with coil weaving techniques and raffia, learnt each other’s cultural dances, pit-fired their pots and beaded friendship bracelets.

The women also shared stories about their culture and personal histories, and explained the role art plays within their lives. Other conversations centred around the ways in which creative work expresses intent and agency; how indigenous material cultures articulate different social values; the importance of continued adherence to customary beliefs and protocols alongside newly acquired Christian values; ideas of copyright and ownership of customary forms; as well as shared experiences of dispossession of land and culture. All participants left with a vision for what they wanted to create for ‘The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT9) at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art.

The Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre

The Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre was established as an NGO in 2001 by the Bougainville congregation of the Sisters of Nazareth to provide women and children impacted by gender-based violence with safe houses, counselling and medical referrals. The centre runs awareness-raising and prevention programs in the Bougainville community, including with men and boys to bring about social behavioural change.

Sister Lorraine Garasu

The Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre is led by Sister Lorraine Garasu, recipient of an Order of Australia and the US State Department’s International Woman of Courage Award. She played a key role in the Bougainville Peace Process by organising women’s groups to call for peace, and as a representative in the formal process.

Artwork

The Exhibition

The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) was initiated by the Queensland Art Gallery in 1993 to focus on the extraordinary contemporary art of Asia, the Pacific and Australia. APT is the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art’s most internationally recognised contemporary art project. The exhibition’s immediate audience has grown from 60 000 in 1993 to more than 600 000 in 2015, and the opportunities it provides for scholarship, cultural dialogue and engagement with diverse communities are similarly expansive.

Exploring contemporary practices in Asia, the Pacific and Australia forms the basis of the Triennial’s curatorial framework, which continually questions definitions of contemporary art, the geography inferred by the exhibition’s title and the context and relevance of art in different societies throughout the region. APT is noted for engaging audiences in significant and innovative practices from the Asia Pacific.

Women’s Wealth is a major project commissioned for APT9. The project draws its title from anthropological debate in the 1970s over the value of women’s material cultural practices in Papua New Guinea. Some 40 years later, Women’s Wealth celebrates women’s material culture in Bougainville and nearby Choiseul and Shortlands Islands. New voices are drawn into the story to explore connections between these practices and the indigenous knowledge and governance systems of the Bougainville and Solomons people. Objects created by women in groups are valued not only for their aesthetic beauty but also the connections they enable with the land and kin, both living and deceased. The work resists forces of alienated labour, mechanised production and environmental destruction that have had such a devastating impact on this region. In addition to being significant forms of cultural and artistic expression, the works in Women’s Wealth are statements of cultural resilience and pride.

Support

Women’s Wealth is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Gordon Darling Foundation, the Brisbane Bougainville Community Group Inc., the Cairns Bougainville Association, QUT Creative Industries and Queen Emma Chocolate Company.

The Solomon Islands artists’ participation was supported by QAGOMA’s Oceania Women’s Fund, enabled by the generous bequest of Jennifer Phipps.

Special thanks to the artists and their families.

Also, the Hon. Josephine Getsi, Minister for Community, Women and Culture, Autonomous Region of Bougainville Government; Cameron Darragh, Joanna Stratton, Joanna Larvin and Roselyne Kenneth, Australian High Commission, Port Moresby; Dorcas Gano, President, Hakö Women’s Collective; Sister Lorraine Garasu and staff of the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre; Alisa Vavataga and Qila Tuhanuku, Solomon Islands Art Alliance; Nelly Neko and Mary Kereseka, Choiseul Provincial Council for Women; Brian Tutura, NID office; Elsie Kipau; Peter Siuani and family; Joe and Anna Kevi; Edward and Emelda Bukil; Veronica and Les Henderson; Rod and Kama Pearce; Carol and Joe Golu; Lazaros Kastanis, Amanda Howes and Darren Pack, Ortelia Interactive Services; Natasha Harth, Morgan McGuire, Mark Gomes and John Marshall, QAGOMA and the extended Havini and Balai families.

Photographs courtesy: Taloi Havini; Ruth McDougall; Sana Reana Balai, Amanda King, Kay Lawrence, Michael Kluvanek and Bruce Mallar. All artwork photography courtesy of the artists and QAGOMA. Photographs: Natasha Harth.