Matias Kauage

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forebears, tradition, urbanity
Visual Arts (engraving, painting)
Port Moresby
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May 9, 2003
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"I know only how to paint pictures!"

Kindly supported by Brigitte Krebs

Born in 1944 in Miugu in Chimbuland on Papua New Guinea, the painter Matias Kauage is one of his country´s best known modern artists. In his works he blends traditional forms with the symbols of urban Western cultures. His pictures have been shown in various places like Sydney, Los Angeles, Prague, London and Berlin. He lives and works in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.
In 1969, as the artist Akis held his first exhibition in the University of Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, it was a historical event. For the first time a painter from New Guinea came forward as a free-lance artist whose pictures neither furthered a local tradition nor claimed to serve a ritual or decorative function in his own village. Kauage was so fascinated with them that he began painting that very evening: Though he had left school in less than a year after being hit by a teacher and had then worked on coffee and rubber plantations and as a cleaner, yet within a year of the exhibition he became a promising artist.

Ulli Beier, the head of the IWALEWA house in Bayreuth, who spent a year on Papua New Guinea and made Kauage known in Germany, talks about his beginnings as an artist: "For years he had been browbeaten by colonial officials and plantation supervisors, so at first he had virtually no confidence in drawing. He was afraid to do anything original and tried vaguely to copy illustrations from school and children´s books. The resulting works were sent through a friend to the group of artists around Georgina Beier, who at first could see nothing in them. Only as Kauage grew bold enough to show her his drawings himself did she begin to realise that in this unknown man lay immense reserves of talent still untapped." (Künstler der Welt, Matias Kauage, Berlin, 1990)

With Georgina Beier´s support, Matias Kauage managed to have an exhibition of his pictures shown within a year and then to live from his art. He was so successful that young artists soon began copying his style and to form a school.

Matias Kauage is now one of the best known and established modern artists of Papua New Guinea. His pictures blend tradition and urbanisation, with traditional ornamentation imposed on things from the alien Western world. Traditional patterns which Kauage´s father had still burnt with a red-hot iron in bamboo flutes or spears blend in his pictures with symbols of urbanisation like cars, planes, motorbikes, helicopters, the queen, boxers and gangsters, all in the bright hues of a Chimbu-warrior in full dance-gear, or like snakes and ghosts flying in helicopters or sailing in liners to Germany. "Kauage accepts the intrusion of alien culture with patience, intelligence, gentleness and humour. He is an inventor and a survival artist." (Georgina Beier)

Kauage says about his relation to tradition: "I would like to keep the old mores of our forefathers up but I don´t know enough. Our forefathers knew so much, yet I know only how to paint pictures, that´s all. I would like to make something which belonged to my forefathers, something genuine, but I don´t know how. When I was six or seven years old, I saw them carving and doing wickerwork. Now I´m grown up and it´s a long time since I saw men working for their forefathers. Now they work only for money. The whites want to buy something from the old time. ´Yes, I have something like that,´ they say. Then they make it quickly and sell it. They no longer live with the things."

Kauage´s pictures have been shown in cities like Sydney, Los Angeles, Prague, London and Berlin.

(Translation: Phil Stanway)


Born in 1944 in Miugu in Chimbuland on Papua New Guinea, Matias Kauage left school after less than a year and worked on plantations. In 1969 he went to an exhibition in the University of Port Moresby, the capital, and was so impressed that he began painting overnight. Having little self-confidence, he firstly copied illustrations from children´s books but with encouragement began painting new urban motifs with traditionally bright colours and ornamentation. From the end of the 60s his fame spread abroad, enabling him to live from painting alone. He now lives and works in Port Moresby.



Exhibition / Installation,
Australian Museum, Sydney Anthropology Museum, Brisbane University of Papua New Guinea, Papua New Guinea Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea Travel Lodge, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea Iwalewa Haus, Bayreuth, Germany Museum for Children, Frankfurt am Main, Germany Mbari Gallery, Washington, USA Mbari Gallery, San Francisco, USA Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles, USA Migila Haus, Sydney

World Artists. Matias Kauage. Paintings from Papua New Guinea

Published Written,
Catalogue. Published by the House of World Cultures, Berlin

Group Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2005 "Stretim Hevi - Moderne Kunst aus Papua-Neuguinea“, Universität Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany 2004 "Early Modern Masters“, Alcheringa Gallery, Victoria, Canada 2003 "Iwalewa Reload“, Iwalewa-Haus, Bayreuth, Germany "Islands in the Sun”, Adam Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand 2001 "Matthias Kauage und Gickmain Kundun“, Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Nürnberg, Germany "Islands in the Sun”, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia 1988 Commonwealth Institute, London, Great Britain Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia 1986 Iwalewa-Haus, Bayreuth, Germany 1982 Iwalewa-Haus, Bayreuth, Germany 1978 The Festival Art Gallery, Adelaide, Australia 1977 The Bookshelf Gallery, Melbourne, Australia The University of Technology, Lae, Papua New Guinea 1976 The Print Council of Australia, Sydney, Australia 1975 Chatswood Gallery, Sydney, Australia Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea Holdsworth Gallery, Sydney, Australia Australian National University, Canberra, Australia Anthropology Museum, Brisbane, Australia State University of Chicago, Chicago, USA 1972 University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia 1971 Naprstek Museum, Prague, Czechia Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles, USA Solidaridad Gallery, Manila, Philippines Fiji Museum, Suva, Fiji Traverse Theatre Gallery, Edinburgh, Great Britain 1970 University of Sussex, Sussex, Great Britain Gallery Africa, Nairobi, Kenya 1969 Aladin Gallery, Sydney, Australia Galerie van Hulsen, Amsterdam, Netherlands Galerie van Hulsen, Leuwarden, Netherlands

Solo Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2005 "Painting from Life“, Alcheringa Gallery, Victoria, Canada "Kauage Vision’s: Art from Papua New Guinea”, London, Great Britain 2003 "Singsing: The Art Of Mathias Kauage“, Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol, Great Britain 1990 “Matias Kauage – Malerei aus Papua-Neuguinea“, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany


1987 special prize of the Blake Prize for Religious Art, Sydney


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Artists of the World

(24 January 90 - 30 January 94)
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