We're used to the word 'remote' in Central Australia but try this for size: to reach the string of five art centres that make up Omie Artists you must trek by foot for up to three days, often (for seven months of the year and then some) in torrential rain, across flooding rivers, clambering up muddy mountain sides and slithering down again. The company's valiant manager, Brennan King, with six Omie security guards, necessary to protect him from attack by 'rascals' from the neighbouring tribe, make this journey several times a year. The artists' work – among the last traditional barkcloths being produced in the world – has to be brought out the same way, rolled over PVC pipes and hoisted on the shoulders of the art centre coordinators.
How remarkable then for these works, steeped in the law and lore of the Omie tribe of Papua New Guinea and many of them a tour de force of design brilliance, to arrive on our doorstep here in the dry centre of Australia and to resonate so strongly with us.
This experience we owe to, apart from Omie Artists, RAFT Artspace in Alice Springs. Its curator Dallas Gold wants to take the pulse of contemporary art in our region (in its expanded definition) and give us a sense of its dynamism, diversity, achievement and promise. This is the third exciting show in a row at RAFT, each stop opening up a window onto a world rich with beauty, ideas, observation and spirit.
The Omie are few in number, King says about 1800 according to a census done by the Omie themselves in 2009. Around 70 artists are producing barkcloths. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured, above left: Omie dance a welcome celebration for Brennan King's arrival at their newest art centre in January 2010. • Above: Pig tusks and teeth, and fern leaves by Linda-Grace Savari. Photos courtesy Omie Artists.