On Display: GOMA, Gallery 3.3
John Siune’s Bikpela pait istap yet long Bougainvil (There is still a war going on in Bougainville) responds to the Papua New Guinean defence force’s use of Iroquois military helicopters, supplied by the Australian Government in the 1980s in its conflict with the BRA (Bougainville Revolutionary Army).
Ignited by local concerns over the environmental consequences of the Panguna mine and the distribution of royalties, the decade-long conflict (1988–98) claimed the lives of thousands of residents of Bougainville, together with many Papua New Guinean soldiers.
In Siune’s painting, the disparity between the two forces is emphasised as is the need for independent documentation of the conditions on the ground. Siune, in the guise of an EM TV camera man, depicts the BRA in villagers’ clothes, barefoot and largely unarmed, while their better-equipped ‘redskin’ opponents attack in force.
John Siune was born in 1965 in Kapank, a village in Papua New Guinea’s Highlands. In 1982 he moved to Port Moresby where he trained as a picture framer. In this environment he developed the idea of art as an object with commercial value and was introduced to works by senior artist from his region, Mathias Kauage.
Siune started painting in 1989 and his work was deeply influenced by Kauage and the artists working around him. Siune’s first painting of the Bougainville crisis in 1991 marked a significant turn in his art, which began to engage with contemporary and often controversial issues of PNG society.
In recent years, John Siune’s work has attracted critical acclaim and is represented in the collections of major art institutions such as the Centre Culturel Tjibaou (Noumea, New Caledonia) and the National Gallery of Australia.