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Exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia examines traditional indigenous art of Vanuatu
Kamanlyk, Vanuatu, Malampa Province, Malakula Island, Lendamboe village, Metaniele c.1972. Wood, vegetable clay, ochre, fibre. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased by J-M Charpentier on behalf of the Commonwealth Arts Advisory Board.

CANBERRA.- The National Gallery of Australia today opened Kastom: Art of Vanuatu, on show only in Canberra until 16 June 2013. Comprised of over fifty extraordinary works the exhibition examines traditional indigenous art of Vanuatu created for community practices, commonly known as kastom. It is the first major survey exhibition of the art of traditional Vanuatu in Australia.

The practice of kastom is at the heart of all cultural values and practices in Vanuatu - it is a way of thought and expression. It is a spiritual connection to ancestors and to land. Today it is observed in tandem with Christian beliefs; it is a concept that encompasses every aspect of life. The exhibition reflects the many stages of ritual life in Vanuatu, from art created for initiation events, to art which celebrates the ascension of life beyond the physical being and into the world of the ancestors.

Kastom: Art of Vanuatu highlights an impressive array of these intensely visual traditional arts, created for ritual events. Art made from wood, feathers, pig tusks, stone, mud and other mediums such as tree fern are on display.

‘The majority of these dramatic pieces have not been on display until now and Kastom will no doubt prove to be a highlight of the Centenary of Canberra program for 2013’, said Ron Radford AM, Director of the National Gallery of Australia.

The majority of works in the exhibition were collected or commissioned with great foresight in the early 1970s by the Commonwealth Arts Advisory Board for the yet to be built National Gallery of Australia. Under the little known Ethnic art field collecting program, a French linguist, Jean-Michel Charpentier, resident in Vanuatu was contracted to build a collection of Pacific Art by acquiring the works directly from the communities he visited. The rest of the works have been recently acquired by the Gallery and shown for the first time.

‘Vanuatu today is a popular destination for Australians yet many visitors know very little about the art and culture of this fascinating island nation. One of the aims of the exhibition is to raise the profile of the rich variety of traditional arts from our Pacific neighbours’ said Crispin Howarth, Exhibition Curator.

One aspect of the exhibition is sand drawing, an ephemeral art form, and specialist artist Samantha Leo has been invited to create a number of designs which are on show in the exhibition.

Kastom: Art of Vanuatu is now showing in the Orde Poynton Gallery at the National Gallery of Australia until 16 June 2013. Entry is free.

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