The ceremony and ritual of visual and performance art have been used by cultures to share stories, entertain and educate across tens of thousands of years. Both Australia and Papua New Guinea’s traditional peoples used these skills to entertain, tell stories and build connections between groups and people. The introduction of western cultural traditions to both countries generated new artistic forms which have been built upon as part of each country’s cultural experience.

Australian arts and culture

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Photo: (Jim Bowen/Flickr)

Australian arts and cultural traditions trace their heritage to Indigenous Australian culture, overlaid with the artistic traditions of European settlers, and evolving into modern connections that reflect Australia’s multicultural society.

First Australians used practices of oral storytelling and ceremony to hand artistic and cultural traditions across generations for tens of thousands of years.  A rich diversity of performance, singing, dance and visual artistic skills were tied to these practices which included body art and painting, carving, weaving and costume-making. In addition, physical art art – in the form of drawing, painting and sculpture has been handed down through generations.

Colonial settlement transplanted the artistic traditions of Europe to Australia. These evolved in the remote setting, taking on distinctive characteristics in visual arts, performance and writing. By the late 19th century Australian styles in painting had been established.

Modern Australian art now draws on and celebrates Indigenous, European and its modern multicultural heritage as its artistic culture reflects the modern society and garners international recognition. Economic wealth has enabled public investment in the arts and culture, buoyed by growing philanthropic investment in production and exhibition. Art and cultural institutions exist in many Australian cities and towns, and a number of major festivals and events are held each year in different fields of the performing and visual arts.

PNG arts and culture

National Museum and Art Gallery of PNG, Port Moresby.

Performance, ceremony and storytelling have been central to Papua New Guinea’s artistic and cultural traditions through the centuries.  Traditional village culture has ensured a strong tradition of dance, singing and costume that remain to this day.

Skilled crafts used in these forms include carving, sculpture, body art including tattoo and painting, dance and singing. Colonial settlement brought western artistic traditions to PNG, and these began to be interpreted by artists intensively from the 1960s. This led to the emergence of distinctive styles blending the story-telling of traditional performance with bold visual styles.

Papua New Guinea’s government has been able to make limited investment in the arts. Despite this, a number of modern and young PNG artists continue to emerge and develop the country’s artistic culture. The country’s primary cultural institution is the National Museum and Art Gallery, which was extensively renovated in the lead up to the 40th anniversary of Papua New Guinea’s independence. Major cultural events are regularly held throughout the year, celebrating major festivals and cultural performances. These include the annual Mount Hagen show, and the Port Moresby Hiri Moale Festival.

Links & Resources

Australia’s government supports the arts through the Department of Communication and the Arts.

The Australia Council for the Arts is the main arts funding body in Australia and manages a number of programs supporting industry organisations.  Various state and territory governments also support the arts through locally-targeted funding programs.

An index of arts organisations is maintained by ArtsHub.

Papua New Guinea’s National Museum and Art Gallery is based in Port Moresby and is open to organised visits and prior arrangements only.

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