The Sepik River in Papua New Guinea is one of the largest unpolluted river systems in the world, extraordinarily beautiful, but seldom visited by outsiders. The power of the river as a life source and a place of myths permeates the art of the Indigenous people there, whose carvings abound with naturalistic, transformational and creation imagery. Creating and selling art is a vital component of their communities' socio-economic life. Examples of this art will be shown in the new exhibition at MOA In the Footprint of the Crocodile Man: Contemporary Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, opening March 1, 2016.
The exhibition has two important goals: to raise awareness of how cultural life and the river that supports it are the source of artist expressions found in sculptural work throughout the Sepik region, and to convey how this cultural life is in danger from the environmental impact of mining.
Located near the headwaters of the Sepik on the border between East Sepik and West Sepik provinces, the Frieda River mine aims to tap one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits. The project is expected to begin construction in 2016, which makes this exhibition very timely. The environmental hazards posed by mining are global in nature – witness the disastrous collapse of the Mount Polley tailings pond in B.C.'s Interior and more recently the Samarco mine disaster in Brazil.
The people who live along the banks of the river are worried. They feel helpless and invisible. The exhibition includes video footage of contemporary cultural life, artists speaking about their fears for future, and input from the mining company that intends to set the benchmark for socially and environmentally responsible mining in PNG.