Boldly patterned with graphic designs, the bark cloth that is made by Ömie women in the Oro province of Papua New Guinea expresses a great diversity of abstracted elements from the natural world. The painted cloths can relay creation stories or represent tattoo patterns that were once important to initiation ceremonies. The making of contemporary bark cloth in the Ömie territory is the exclusive creative and spiritual domain of 71 women artists. The cloth is crafted only by female chiefs and only within the community’s territory. It is produced according to strict ceremonies in accordance with past traditions. Artists are expected to command traditional wisdom in the making and decorating of the bark cloth with designs created by the ancestors. Girls learn the art from their mothers, grandmothers, or aunts, usually beginning as teenagers.
The first major museum exhibition of Ömie bark cloth took place at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, in 2009. This exhibition features a selection of 10 works borrowed from that museum’s permanent collection, now on view for the first time in the United States.