The art gallery at Queensborough Community College recently unveiled its new exhibit on Papua New Guinea. Running until Oct. 22, the exhibit is meant to help viewers better understand the culture of the people from the country, specifically the Papuan Gulf.
Among the items on exhibit at the art gallery are larger-than-life woven masks of people and animals; decorative objects; ancestor and spirit boards referred to as “gope”; and other cultural elements. Each object was meant to influence supernatural beings into attending to certain human needs.
“[This exhibit] is a really important addendum to our community,” Queens Community College Art Gallery Executive and Artistic Director Faustino Quintanilla said. “This is an avenue of culture we haven’t touched before. This is a very important collection and it’s important the community knows about it.”
According to Quintanilla, the pieces at the exhibit range from as early as the 19th century to as recent as the end of the 20th century. He’s hopeful that the enrichment of cultures will strike a chord and educate the community and students from one of the most diverse universities in the country.
This art on exhibit was previously collected by Marc Seidler. He owned and operated hotel located on Daru, an island off the southeastern coast of New Guinea. During the 11 years he spent there, Seidler gained a deep appreciation for the culture and tradition of the people in the Papuan Coast. This appreciation is reflected in the collection. Seidler passed away on April 8, 2020, in Australia.
Collected during his time residing in Daru and the Papuan Gulf Region, Seidler’s collection was transferred to the New Guinea capital of Port Moresby. Since then, it has been on display in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Los Angeles. Now on display in in the Queensborough Community College art gallery, these works carry with them the lives, beliefs and souls of its creators.
While the people of the Papuan Gulf are typically politically and linguistically separate, there are several cultural elements they share. Some of these elements include a social order based on kinship and a ritual life centered on the male members of society. There was a period of time in which each village created a long men’s house, with female members of the community and uninitiated males being forbidden from entering it. The interior of these structures were usually divided for different clans. It was there that much of the items found at the art gallery’s exhibit would be housed.
New Guinea is a tropical island found just north of Australia. The country is approximately the same size as California. A ridge of mountains can be found along its center spine, with some of them estimated to be up to 12,000 feat tall. The slopes are the source of great rivers which terminate as swamps and deltas called the Papuan Gulf. It is from this area, between the Fly River and Cape Possession, that the pieces on exhibit were collected. Nowadays, the island is politically divided between the independent nation of Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian state of Irian Jaya.