EDITOR | Visual Arts Hub
a Bit na Ta: The Story of the Gunantuna at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Melbourne Museum, until- 4 February 2018; ticketed
MELBOURNE - Although Papua New Guinea is Australia’s nearest neighbour geographically, it has traditionally been held at a cultural distance.
Shared projects are rare and relatively few Australians have experienced the cultures of this vibrant nation.
Museums Victoria is challenging that distance through the multimedia installation and exhibition, a Bit na Ta: The Story of the Gunantuna, a collaborative project re-imagining PNG through language, colour and symbolic imagery.
a Bit na Ta ('the source of the sea') incorporates video footage, photographic works and collection objects, and celebrates the resilience of the Tolai people of East New Britain, who have survived the disruptions of shifting colonial powers, war, volcanic eruptions and independence struggles.
The work is the outcome of a 30-year friendship between internationally renowned Tolai singer George Telek and Aria-winning musician and composer David Bridie.
Together they have created an audio-visual dreamscape of moving images projected onto tapa cloth, intertwined by Tolai song, atmospheric sounds and storytelling by cultural historian Gideon Kakabin.
Rounding out this deeply symbolic exhibition are contemporary artworks by Lisa Hilli and Museums Victoria collection artefacts.
Exploring the tension between tradition and modernity, a Bit na Ta challenges perceptions through a playful manipulation of image, text and objects.
Melbourne-born Bridie’s long association with PNG began in 1990, when his band Not Drowning, Waving with PNG musicians recorded the album Tabaran to much critical acclaim.
Now one of the world’s foremost producers of Melanesian music, Bridie went on to co-establish a not-for-profit music label, the Wantok Musik Foundation, which aims to preserve language through music and cultural exchanges between Indigenous Australia and Melanesia.
Naturally, Bridie gravitated towards PNG’s most celebrated musician, Telek, who was born near Rabaul. With a distinctive ability to blend Melanesian rhythms with ‘midal’ (magic charms) and ‘malira’ (love magic) into three-part harmonies, Telek’s haunting voice complements Bridie’s intricate compositions.
Premiering earlier this year at the Queensland Art Gallery as part of the No 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966-2016 exhibition, a Bit na Ta draws on the rich oral histories of the Tolai people to capture the history and spirit of a proud cultural heritage.
a Bit na Ta demonstrates the dynamic nature of culture, with the inclusion of Hilli’s contemporary art and of objects from Tolai daily life and living traditions.