Uramat Mugas (Uramat Story Songs)
A large-scale, four-year (2018-22) international collaboration inspired by the ceremonial practices of the PNG Uramat Baining clan for Asia Pacific Triennial (APT10), QAGOMA (Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art), Brisbane. The APT is QAGOMA’s most internationally-significant event and has attracted 3 million viewers since its initiation in 1993.
Public outcomes were a 580m2 installation, over 2 rooms in GOMA’s premier gallery for their globally-significant triennial. Conceptually audiences journeyed through Uramat day & nighttime activities & ceremonies, engaging their pantheon of spirit figures. Room 1’s day masks were contextualised by 5 channels of village life & dance video, presented on tapa (bark) cloth plus 45 ‘digital canvas’ elements organised in sweeping lines. Renowned musician David Bridie’s soundtrack presented the Uramat bamboo drumming orchestra, chants & sounds of village life. The night masks in blacked out room 2 were contextualised by sound and dance imagery projected on dual scrims, periodically lit in the dark space behind. Computer control coordinated all aspects of the work. This unique layering method was designed to restrict normative mask viewing in accordance with Uramat taboo directives – a significant decolonising method that transformed normative museum display models, fully respecting the spiritual entities implicit in the masks through virtual return to ples (place). Its key contribution was developing an appropriate exhibition design/display methodology for culturally sensitive artefacts through immersive experience & digital installation methods.
The project was initiated by QAGOMA Senior Curator Ruth McDougall & Jo Kenny in 2016. The late Gideon Kakabin, presented QAGOMA with 70 Uramat objects in 2018 including the Qawat (Kavat) fire dance, & daytime (Madaska) masks. I was invited to begin work in 2018 with QAGOMA, Kakabin’s clan group and local PNG filmmakers as installation artist & visual director – ultimately an extensive 4-year exhibition design role - leading the methods of image presentation & completing all image production. Our team worked consistently to decolonise this approach to display, notably of the fire dance masks, consistent with Uramat tradition, practice and cosmology. We premiered the work at APT10, Dec. 2021.
The works international significance is indicated by: inclusion in the Southern Hemisphere's most important Asia Pacific art survey show; scale (multi-year collaboration (2018-2022)); an Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grant ($60,000) for travel/work completed in PNG & Australia funding additional cultural & youth engagement exchanges, a suite of gallery programs, talks presentations & PNG outreach (2021-2023); & support by the Indigenous Uramat Identity Group of East New Britain, PNG & QUT as a APT10 ‘Major Partner’. The 240pp. colour catalogue with essays from Tarun Nagesh, Reuben Keehan & Ruth McDougall is collected by the Australian National Library. With audiences of over 3 million since 1993, APT10 runs 4 Dec-25 April 22 with significant critical press assured. The work will tour nationally/internationally, including PNG in 2023-5. Further reviews are in process.
TEAM: Keith Armstrong: Visual Director/Installation Artist, David Bridie (Sound artist) Ruth McDougall, (Curator), Jo Kenny (Creative producer), Lazarus Eposia, (Uramat elder/representative), the late Gideon kakbin (elder/author), Uramat mask artists, PNG film crew.
1: (Asia Pacific Triennial APT10, Qldg Art Gallery and the Gallery odf Modern Art (QAGOMA), Southbank, Brisbane, Dec 4 2021- April 25 2022.
PARTNERS: QAGOMA, QUT CIESJ School of Creative Arts.