Kwoma Arts / Kwoma people, Tongwinjamb, East Sepik Province/ Papua New Guinea est.2012 / Anton Waiawas / Team leader / Tongwinjamb b.1952 / Rex Maukos / Collaborating artist / Tongwinjamb b.1964 / Kevin Apsepa / Collaborating artist / Ambunti b.1971 / Simon Goiyap / Collaborating artist / Mino b.1973 / Terry Pakiey / Collaborating artist / Tonwinjamb b.1974 / Nelson Makamoi / Collaborating artist / Tongwinjamb b.1982 / Jamie Jimok / Collaborating artist / Tongwinjamb b.1982 / Koromb (spirit house) 2012 / Synthetic polymer paint, plywood, blackbutt, steel / Installed dimensions variable / Purchased 2012. Queensland Art Gallery / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © The artists

Kwoma Arts
Koromb (spirit house) 2012

Not Currently on Display

Kwoma Arts, a group of seven artists from the Upper Sepik villages of Tongwinjamb and Mino, were commissioned to create carvings and paintings for ‘The 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT7) in 2012.

The artists translated the form of the koromb (spirit house) found in their villages into an installation using new materials while still retaining the cultural integrity and significance of this architectural structure.

Each of the 200-plus panels comprising the ceiling is painted with a design from the individual artists’ clan totems. Represented in this work are the animals, plants, birds and spirit figures associated with the Wanyi (cassowary), Tek (dog), Humikwa(bird of paradise) and Guisemb (sea eagle) clans.

In a palette of black, white, red and yellow, this vibrant ceiling communicates the energy associated with the spirits housed within. These spirits are more fully explored in the koromb’s sculptural supports, which, in this installation, consist of six kwat (posts) carved with figurative designs relating to key narratives of the Kwoma sikiyawas (spirits).

Kwoma Arts is a group of seven artists from the Upper Sepik villages of Tongwinjamb and Mino, Papua New Guinea.

Anton Waiawas (b.1952) is a member of the Wanyi (cassowary) clan of Tongwinjamb village. Like many other senior Kwoma artists, Waiawas has a great interest in educating the younger members of his village. He has played a major role in Tongwinjamb teaching younger men the stories and skills necessary to create work for the koromb, as well as the ceremonies and rituals associated with the planting of yams.

Waiawas is also highly regarded as a performer and travelled to Japan in 2000 to carve new works for the Tobacco and Salt Museum in Tokyo, as well as the Kashiwazaki City Museum in Niigata. The most senior artist in the group, Waiawas is the only member of Kwoma Arts with the authority to carve the primary ancestor Yena figures and to lead performances.

Rex Maukos (b.1964) is also a member of the Wanyi (cassowary) clan of Tongwinjamb. He has created work for the korombs in his village, as well as works for sale at the annual Ambunti Puk Puk (crocodile) Festival. Like his brother Anton Waiawas, Maukos is a skilled performer and recently performed with Waiawas and senior artist David Kaipuk using Parima (fish masks) created by Kevin Apsepa and Daniel Kouminja for a Russian documentary on Kundu TV.

Kevin Apsepa (b.1971) was born in Ambunti to Tongwinjamb’s Wanyi (cassowary) clan. A dedicated spokesperson for Kwoma culture, Apsepa has created his own company, Kwoma Primitive Arts. He regularly exhibits work as part of the Ambunti Puk Puk (crocodile) Festival, and has been commissioned with his elder brother Daniel Kouminja to create works for organisations, such as the East Sepik Division of Education. Apsepa works are held in numerous private collections.

Simon Goiyap (b.1973) belongs to the Hamikwa (bird of paradise) clan. Born in Mino village, he is known and respected for his independence and industriousness. Living some distance from Mino village, Goiyap has created his own very striking koromb. He supplements the income he receives from hunting and farming crocodiles and wild pigs by selling works to tourists travelling down the Sepik.

Terry Pakiey (b.1974) was born in Tongwinjamb and belongs to the Tek (dog) clan. He has created work for korombs in the village, as well as for sale at the annual Ambunti Puk Puk (crocodile) Festival. Pakiey is well informed about his clan’s history, its myths and rituals.

Nelson Makamoi (b.1982) of the Guisemb (sea eagle) clan is the grandson of the clan’s chief Jordan Wukiua. A gifted artist, Makamoi has created the most visible and significant carvings for the new koromb in Tongwinjamb. He also creates more innovative interpretations of customary designs, as well as figurative paintings and carvings.

Jamie Jimok (b.1982) was born in Tongwinjamb village and, like Simon Goiyap, is from the Hamikwa (bird of paradise) clan. As Jimok is quite young, there are still restrictions on the stories that he is able to carve. Despite this, he is able to draw on a vast repertoire of designs and regularly creates work for sale.

Discussion Questions

1. Observe the colours used in the paintings in the koromb. Although painted with commercial paints, these colours relate to natural pigments found around Tongwinjamb and Mino villages or traded with nearby tribes. Describe the types of optical effects this combination of colours creates. Do you think this is intentional on the part of the artists?

2. When you enter a koromb in the village — usually from the bright sunlight of the day outside — it takes some time for your eyes to adjust to the light levels inside the structure. The Kwoma want you to feel a certain way when you enter these buildings and see all the paintings looking down at you. How would you describe this feeling? Can you think of a building in your community that makes you feel this way?

3. Most Kwoma live a subsistence lifestyle growing their own vegetables and hunting and fishing. Through image and carving, the koromb honours the artists’ ongoing relationship with the animal, plant and spirit world of their homeland. Why do you think these relationships are important to the Kwoma?

Classroom Activities

1. Research important national architectural structures from Papua New Guinea and Australia; for example, high commissions (embassies), parliament houses, museums, cathedrals. What do these structures communicate about the nations and people they represent?

2. Investigate some Australian buildings dedicated to spiritual beliefs — churches, mosques, temples. Compare and contrast these buildings with the koromb.

3. Document buildings in your local area by sketching and photographing a selection. Consider when the buildings were created, whether their function and use has changed over time, and if these buildings hold memories of tell stories of the local community. Design an architectural structure as a meeting place for people to come together and discuss issues that are of shared concern. Consider the purpose of the structure, what materials you would use to build it, and how you might welcome people to spend time in the space.