Weevils, mats, and New Guinea

Lamothe, Marie Elise Lorraine (2008) Weevils, mats, and New Guinea. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This research was foregrounded by my 2002 exhibition Weevil Rugs of New Guinea, a fictionally based body of work, which through motif, technique, materiality and allusions to form and function, made reference and paid homage to mat makers/textile artists in Canada, Papua New Guinea and Australia. The use of insect motifs was underpinned by my familiarity with insects (through a prior natural resource management degree) and an appreciation that the insect motif could sustain a long term examination both as a design base and as a vehicle to critique arbitrary standards and preconceived notions. But what of other textile makers who use insect motifs? How do they come to the use of entomological designs? In particular, how do women of Papua New Guinea, the country in which my weevil (the genus Eupholus) was found, adopt such imagery? What does this indicate about them and their art practices? How could the practices of the Western artist and the Morobean women of Papua New Guinea be documented both visually and in a written form to illustrate the parallel practices of mat making that incorporate entomological motifs?

This research addresses these questions, and seeks to expand the understanding of the paradigms of art and science, by exploring the creative processes of two similar, yet culturally radically different, sets of textile practices, both of which employ entomological imagery: my practice as a Western textile artist and the practices of Papua New Guinean (from Morobe province) makers of stitched Pandanus mats. Based on an a priori assumption that textiles are valid sites for artistic expressions that include culturally appropriate decorative motifs, often of a symbolic nature but also conceptual imagery, the research behind Distilling the Weevilness of Weevil focuses on the developments and processes common to both practices.

While the research is informed by the extant literature on women’s material culture in Papua New Guinea, as well as an overview of mat and entomological culture, in fact stitched Pandanus mats of the Huon Gulf are not well represented in the museums of the world or in documentation by the first expatriates (missionaries) to live in this area. Since the missionaries‟ arrival in the 1880s, and despite several independent museum expeditions, only a handful of mats and rain capes (approximately 25) have been collected from this area. Similarly, with the exception of brief mentions in relation to mats as economic items in the trade cycles of Tami (Huon Gulf) and Tuam Islands (Siassi), the sites of the current research, the literature and primary source information is scanty.

Mat making persists in these communities. This research documents the extent of historical continuity and current practices through the interrogation of histories, ideas and imagery coupled with photo-imagery of historical mats from the region. Interestingly, only one group of Morobean mat makers used an entomological motif as part of its lexicon. Nevertheless, the majority of all designs referenced nature intimately and reflected the overarching aims of the science/art paradigm. Photographs reveal the rarely documented processes of stitched Pandanus mat making from the villages of Malesiga, Yaga Settlement and Bukaua.

As part of the studio practice component of this research, formal aesthetic qualities in hooked mats, with relation to design qualities of the stitched Pandanus mats of the Huon Gulf and Siassi, were explored. Mat hooking, thought to have originated on the eastern seaboard of North America as early as the 1850s, is considered to be a true North American art form. Because this researcher’s ancestry can be traced to Eastern Canada, similar historical parameters are maintained between the two research focus groups.

A number of strategies were employed in gathering data on the creative practices and the designs of the Morobean stitched mats. Of central importance have been studies of archived and museum objects combined with field work with contemporary Morobean mat makers. These initiatives have lead to the development of the resultant body of exhibition work that not only documents research efforts in terms of formal aesthetic experiments as well as literature research, but also presents the findings of the research as a visual discourse on creative process. The potential for future research, with respect to continuing investigations into stitched Pandanus mats but also into the broader categories of female material culture in Papua New Guinea, the teaching of textiles both in the developed and developing world as well as the further development of a personal artistic practice, is canvassed in the final chapter.

Item ID: 8187
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Papua New Guinea, weevils, mats, mat makers, textiles, insect motif, entomological designs, Eupholus, imagery, artists, women, pandanus, culture, history, rain capes, trade, hooked rugs, constructed mythology
Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2010 01:52
FoR Codes: 19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts > 190501 Crafts @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9501 Arts and Leisure > 950104 The Creative Arts (incl. Graphics and Craft) @ 100%
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