The Sydney Oceanic Art Society was held today (November 6, 2021) at the National Art School in Darlinghurst. The annual event had been cancelled last year and consequently this year’s show had an unusually large number of exhibitors and a vast range of artefacts on display. There were genuine ethnographic rarities and collectables from Papua New Guinea, the Pacific and Australia – masks, carvings, weapons, textiles, jewellery, books and prints. The majority of the pieces were from PNG. The exhibitors were knowledgeable and happy to explain the significance of pieces. Many had lived or worked in PNG, some even going back prior to independence in 1975.

It was a joyous event as colleagues and collectors who hadn’t seen one another for years gathered to share stories and examine each other’s collections. The historic sandstone ‘Cell Block’ hall created just the right atmosphere for the display of the artefacts. The hall was filled with curious new collectors as well as seasoned ethnologists. The enthusiasm of the crowd today certainly demonstrated Australia’s long and special relationship with PNG.

The prehistory of PNG can be traced to about 50,000 – 60,000 years ago, when people first migrated towards the Australian continent. The older the artefact, the more expensive it is. I spied none more than a hundred years old at the show. Most were quite affordable.

Papuans have been selling their arts since the 1850s. The villagers are the skilled creators of the artefacts and experienced business people working in harmony with Australian traders and collectors. The money they earn from selling their art is their sole income in many remote villages, usually paying for school fees and medicines. Pieces were made with traditional materials (no acrylic paint) in the traditional way (no electric drills) and can be used for a traditional purpose. 

The Sydney Oceanic Fair was organised by the Oceanic Art Society, normally an annual event.