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Richard Aldridge 

Guest Lecturer in New Guinea Tribal Art

Richard Aldridge is a collector and dealer of both New Guinea tribal and early Aboriginal art. He has been collecting Indigenous art for over 17 years and specialises in high-end material.

Over the last 17 years, he has gained extensive experience in gauging the authenticity and age of artworks.  He has sold thousands of objects, from small adornments to large masterpieces of tribal art.

He has exhibited collections in America and New Zealand and has contributed to numerous publications on tribal art.

With over 16 years of experience in field collecting, he has spent time in some of the most remote areas on earth. He has had the privilege of sitting around hundreds of campfires, discussing art with the people who are the experts – the New Guinea locals themselves.

Richard lives and works in Perth, Western Australia.

Tribal Art Lecture Series

Lecture 1: A Beginner’s Guide to Tribal Art

This first presentation will give the audience a broad introduction to Tribal Art. Tribal Art is often perceived to be simple, naïve and primitive but as you will discover Tribal Art can be complex, creative, and a window into another culture’s spirituality and beliefs. In many ways, Tribal Art has similar functions to the art of Europe not so long ago, and its significant influence on 20th-century European art is often overlooked. All cultures tend to express themselves through art in a variety of ways including sculpture, music, dance, painting, weapons, adornment, and architecture.  The similarities and differences of these art regions are examined individually and highlighted visually.

Lecture 2: Indonesian Tribal Art

The wonderful variety of Indonesian Tribal Art is visually explored as an overview.  Indonesia is rarely recognized for its contribution to Tribal Art as much of the country’s art has been influenced by Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. This talk focuses on the isolated pockets of remnant Indonesian Tribal Art. Particular emphasis is placed on how islands in close geographical proximity can be worlds apart culturally.  We visually explore the art of  Enggano, Mentawai, Nias, Dayak, Sulawesi and Sumba regions. Each has a very different artistic result from the aristocratic warrior culture of Nias to the Mentawai belief that beauty of form brings abundance in life.

Lecture 3: Art of the Spice Islands

Part A – ‘Molluccan Art or Art of the Spice Islands’ delves into the art from the 1000 islands of the Banda Sea in Eastern Indonesia. Despite the northern area of the Spice Islands undergoing near cultural genocide at the hands of the Dutch East India Company, the art of the southern region gives an intriguing insight into the art of this area.  The art and culture of this region revolve around the spiritual duality between Canoe and Helmsman, Heaven and Earth, Male and Female, and Life and Death.  Luli Figures, the significance of canoe symbolism, the Porka ritual, and the artworks created for this pivotal custom will all be explained.

Talk B –  Meeting of cultures: The influence of Indonesia on Yolngu Arnhem Land Art

Before Captain Cook landed in Botany Bay, the Aboriginal people had already had extensive contact with trepangers, (the Sea Cucumber fishermen) from Sulawesi. This contact not only resulted in rock art but changed the economy, culture, and art of the Arnhem Land Aboriginals. Exactly how much influence Makassan interaction changed the aboriginal culture in the region is open to speculation but some of the potentially significant impacts will be explored.

Lecture 4: Overview of the Art Styles of New Guinea

This overview outlines all the main art styles of New Guinea, working around the country in a clockwise direction detailing the most influential pieces of each regional culture.  The regions covered include the Asmat, Mimika, Raja Ampat, Geelvinki Bay, Lake Sentani, the Sepik, Astrolabe Bay, Manus Island, New Ireland, Bouganville, East New Britain, West New Britain, Collingwood Bay, Masim, Papuan gulf and finally the Highlands.  This talk explores the differences and similarities of an extraordinarily diverse country. Each area has a visually distinctive style and patterns which are highlighted in bowls, masks, sculptures, adornments and shields.

Lecture 5: Korvar: Worshipping the Ancestor

We will explore ancestor worship and the function of Korvar sculptures.  This is an area where Indonesian tribal beliefs collide with New Guinea beliefs to produce some fascinating artworks.  Korvars have three main styles and these will be explained along with the importance of duality in Korvar society and spirituality. Other artworks from this area include such items as drums, bowls, charms and neck rests.

Lecture 6: Lake Sentani

Lake Sentani is known for its Tapa cloths which were influential on the European Surrealism Art movement of Europe in the 1920s.  This huge but isolated lake is also home to some of the most outstanding freestanding sculpture created in Oceania.  This talk will also cover more utilitarian items including food hooks, lime pots and bowls before returning to the coast to examine the unique art of Humboldt Bay. Humboldt Bay although geographically close to Lake Sentani has its own distinctive art style reflected in its sculpture and canoe ornaments.

Lecture 7: Sepik Art

The Sepik River in Papua New Guinea is one of the most artistically diverse regions on the planet. Each community has its own artistic canon reflecting an individual religious history and cosmology. The Sepik is an area where art, magic and belief are so intertwined that they meld into an inseparable entity. It’s a region known for headhunting trophies and artworks empowered by human sacrifice.  Starting with the Iatmul people of the Middle Sepik we travel around the region looking at the major artistic regions and their similarities and differences.

Lecture 8: Lower Sepik

The Lower Sepik has one of the strongest mask-making cultures anywhere on earth and these Spirits still dance to this day. This culture believes that the initiates do not actually dance the masks, but rather become the spirits the masks represent.  The lower Sepik region is also the origin of some of the most powerful figurative sculpture.  This talk also discusses how Garamut drums were used to communicate throughout the Sepik Basin and how the role of adornments can show status.

Lecture 9: Tami Island Art

The Tami Islands are best known for their beautiful, large and unique bowls.  This region also has a strong mask-making culture that extends into West New Britain and through to Madang. In this talk, we will focus on how art can travel with particular cults and is not bound by language or other traditions.  This presentation will also examine the spread of Circular Pigs Teeth along traditional trade routes and the many varieties and uses of New Guinea traditional currencies in general.

Lecture 10: Massim Art

Despite a hundred years or so of the Christian Missionary influence, many of the island people of Milne Bay retain beliefs in sorcerers and witchcraft. We look at those beliefs and see how they are reflected in the objects and arts of this area.  Massim art is best known for its fine figurative lime spatulas used in chewing betelnut. Through examining a variety of examples this art form is revealed to be more than just decorated lime sticks and some of its secrets are revealed.

Lecture 11: Malangan

Malagan carvings are uniquely found from New Island and considered one of the most beautiful and creative artworks from New Guinea.  It is believed that the spirits of the dead can be used for sorcery, and Malagan rituals are used to get rid of these spirits so that no sorcerer is more powerful than another.  Master carvers are commissioned to carve a specific design, the copyright of which is owned by another individual. Malangan are traditionally used at funeral ceremonies to vanquish the ghost of the dead.  By examining the creation and meaning of a single artwork it is possible to understand that behind each artwork is a story much larger than is immediately apparent.