Not Currently on Display
As a baby, Simon Nowep (1902–84) was taken into the sacred chambers of the Haus Tambaran in his village of Kambot; his artworks were subsequently deeply connected to the spiritual lessons he learnt as a child. Traditional beliefs across much of Papua New Guinea rest on an understanding of the interdependence of all things, however distinct they may appear. The human, animal, vegetable and spirit worlds inhabit a shared space. In Nowep’s drawings and paintings, this interconnectedness is clear. Primary ancestor figures and brothers, Mopul and Wain, together with their families and followers, are often placed in close association with local animals and plants. They tell the creation stories of the Kambot people and also carry knowledge about the environment and its cycles, lessons about important symbiotic relationships, and the consequences should the proper balance not be maintained.
Simon Nowep was the last man fully initiated into the sacred knowledge, songs and images associated with the Haus Tambaran in the village of Kambot on the Keram River, East Sepik Province. As in many Sepik communities, rapid social change brought about by colonisation and the introduction of Christianity, as well as the two-year military occupation by the Japanese Imperial forces during World War Two, disrupted traditional cycles of village life in Kambot. In many ways, Nowep straddled two worlds — as a young man he was made a catechist for the Catholic mission but was deeply disturbed at the removal of works from the Haus Tambaran, deemed dangerous by the missionaries and attractive to Collectors. Despite the pressures of the Church, Nowep resolutely continued to paint and to pass on to a younger generation the knowledge and values instilled by his elders. His works can be found in major museum collections around the world and the front of the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery building in Port Moresby has a large painting inspired by a Nowep painting.