Jeffry Feeger is a promising 26 year old Papua New Guinean artist who’s art ventures away from the “naïve art” which is typically associated with PNG . Of Kerema and German parentage, he has been growing and developing his skills as an artist while making a living. He recently won the Tautai Pacific Artist residency in Auckland. I was fortunate enough to meet him and later contacted him to ask if I could use his pictures for an artist profile. I later changed my mind and decided to do a small Q&A section instead and Jeffry was kind enough to grant me my request.
First of all CONGRATULATIONS for winning the Tautai Residency (I know I am super late with the congratulations).
Is this your first international learning excursion (if I could call it that) specifically for art? Yes
Did you have any expectations/fears/reservations when you got into Auckland?
I really did not know what to expect, so that made me a bit anxious, but I had been advised it was like going from one pacific island to another, and that I was to be treated well. I had always known NZ people to be very friendly and understanding anyway.
How do you think this trip has helped you and what are you hoping to do with what you’ve learned?
This trip is a very special and significant event in my artist history. During my stay I have been able to make myself known to the Pacific island Art community here and meet and gain the contacts I will need later to assist me in pursuing my art further in NZ and perhaps open a window for me internationally as well.
I go back with many creative ideas, being exposed to the contemporary art scene here and seeing the way artists’ think and approach their art. I have gained knowledge as well, knowing what is possible in terms of putting on shows and exhibitions. Perhaps the most important thing though, is I now have a stronger sense of self worth, as an artist and as a person. It was only from the outside looking in I could see the worth of myself, my country and our contemporary art.
Are their any artists in Auckland whose work impressed you?
Yes there where a few artist works I saw that I liked but no, the feeling of being impressed did not come to mind, the feeling I felt was, I might say a sense of appreciation, understanding and admiration toward their work.
Do you think you got out of your residency the things you wanted?
Very much so and a lot more than I could have imagined.
Regarding the PNG art scene:
From an artist’s perspective, do you think lack of exposure to the international art scene and the limitations placed on an artist by the art market hinders an artist’s development? Or are most artists you know happy with the place their art is at?
Yes, I do agree that there is lack of exposure to PNG contemporary art, that is a marketing issue, and depend on foreign contacts that need to be further explored. The art market in PNG does limit artistic creativity, there is not enough appreciation and support for contemporary artists to explore and create new ideas and identities for our modern PNG. I believe artists are not happy with having to please rather then create freely for the art scene. It is what will sell rather than who I am that matters to most artists now, unlike previous artists of 20 years ago like Kauage enjoyed. People wanted to know what his ideas of the world around him were, rather then having pretty things on the wall.
Do you think PNG art is in danger of being pigeonholed? As in is there a sort of stereotypical expectation of PNG art.
Yes, for the reasons mentioned above I do think our art is being push in certain directions because of the market pressures at home. "More naive art please primitive man" without the realization that times are a changing and PNG people are producing work not as a response to environment but rather to this market. I believe(that) less than half of contemporary art work on the street could be considered seriously and as not just copycatting or misappropriating or creating just bilas (decor) but rather genuine original responses to life. Right now, unfortunately the world only sees contemporary PNG art as being mainly naive in style. I am hoping that the serious more widely educated artists of new, like myself, Laben Sakale John, Mairi Feeger, Gazella Bruder will help pave the way for new styles and perceptions of PNG contemporary art. Which are fresh and not seen or experienced by the world as yet! That to me is exciting!
What sort of changes would you like to see in the art scene? What things would you suggest be done to help the development of artists?
I 'd like to see the PNG government open up opportunities for students to study the arts overseas. We need better educated artists and academics, who can offer us direction and help to represent us and market us to the world. It is only when you leave PNG that you can fully understand what PNG is worth to the world. We need to revive art in our country, as I see it as weathering in the wind. To the people who can, I encourage them to promote art, give people opportunities to express themselves through art, motivate them, inspire them to continue to create. Offer Art competitions for youth, offer work shops for improving quality of work for artists. An association for visual artist does not even exist, that could be an important starting point. A commercial Gallery space to hang and sell artwork in PNG is also in dire need at the moment as we have only the fences of our hotels and floors of our schools to display work.
The value of our contemporary art is not yet realized by our people and our leaders. We have ignored our artists and are slowly paying the price. Our artists are our visionaries, they are the creators of our culture, they provide national identity, they provide direction and leadership. I pose an important question “whom do the PNG urban youth of today follow, listen or adhere to?" Nobody! There traditional cultural links are quickly losing relevance in their urban environment. Which have become melting pots of our traditional culture. We need to acknowledge that in this context there needs to be a new cultural direction and motive. We must be promoting the arts as a means of responsibility and appreciation of our traditional culture and as responses to our modern culture. "Who are we?" must be questioned again and again for the sake of our youth. They should be given the ability to express that through art, to know there place in this world.
The Arts in PNG must be payed attention to as it a reflection of who we are, if our identity is strong then our people will be will be.
Thanks for your time!
If you're interested in Jeffry's work and want to contact him, hit up his facebook group page.