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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Guest Post: Colour Me PNG with Jodie McAlister

KBR warmly welcomes Jodie McAlister to talk of her truly inspiring journey to create Papua New Guinea's first colouring book. Jodie, an Aussie who lives in PNG with her two small children, curated, facilitated and launched the book at Port Moresby Nature Park on 14 December.

In early 2015, I had the privilege of moving to Papua New Guinea for my work. To have the opportunity to live in PNG with such a unique and diverse culture, and such a rich and amazing natural environment, is something so special for me and my family. My passion for the region and for PNG ramps up when art is involved. There are so many uniquely talented artists, and it is this passion that has driven the creation of Colour Me PNG—PNG’s first colouring in book.

In the middle of this year, I wanted to have any Arty Party for my four-year-old daughter, and went searching for PNG colouring-in books. I came home from the stationary shop empty-handed but soon found myself at the craft market where I was surrounded by amazing art. Michael Kauage’s drawings immediately attracted me. They are so obviously well-suited to colouring in. Michael and I struck up a conversation, exchanged mobile numbers and the rest, as they say, is history.

Colour Me PNG features the bold black and white artistic version of frogs (rokrok), cassowaries (muruk), birds of paradise (kumul) and other native birds, animals and sea creatures of PNG. Michael was schooled in his craft by the master artist Sir Mathias Kauage who was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to the Arts. Short English and Tok Pisin (the local PNG language) descriptions accompany each page of the book, offering something for both local and international audiences, and ensuring a wonderful memento of PNG.

Artists in PNG work hard, they have few formal opportunities to sell their work beyond the craft markets and buyers needs a reasonable amount of creativity to lift their works from the dusty ground (where they are displayed), into the context of a framed piece on the wall at home. Part of my drive in creating this book is to give Michael and other artist exposure and different ways to market their artistic talents, and to provide a more reliable income. Michael lives what some might think a ‘simple’ life in the settlements, and when we started our partnership, he did not even have a table to on which to draw. I am happy to say Michael now has a table and a bank account with a more stable income (things many of us take for granted).

My vision with Colour me PNG is to create a social enterprise which meets the colouring craze head on and capitalises on the talent of local artists and supporting development work in PNG. Profits from the book will support the artist and various development programs, with a focus on unlocking children’s potential, supporting vulnerable families, and enhancing pride in PNG’s uniquely beautiful culture.

I believe the model has strong potential to be a fund raiser for key partners and we are in the process of formalising partnerships and seeking corporate sponsorship to reduce the considerable costs of keeping the whole process ‘PNG-made’.

Our first partner has been the Port Moresby Nature Park, one of Port Moresby’s main attractions, and a park that is dedicated to entertaining and educating visitors about culture, flora and fauna of PNG whilst developing key conservation programs. Over 120,000 visitors enjoyed the park this year, 46,500 of them children, who are supported through the school excursion program and key public events such as World Wildlife day. The Port Moresby Nature Park conservation programs currently raise 47 pig-nose turtle hatchlings and host two of only four long-nosed echidnas in captivity in the world. Some amazing things about PNG you might not have known!

The next edition of Colour me PNG will be tailored to feature animals in the Port Moresby Nature Park and provide tidbits of information about key species. Future partnerships are underway to support an NGO that works to counsel and protect vulnerable women and children against family and sexual violence—a scourge on both the populations of PNG and Australia.

Our first print run of 500 copies of Colour Me PNG has sold out and we are preparing for a new print run in 2016, looking at both national and international distribution. A distribution arrangement in Australia would be particularly welcome given the strong historical tie between the two countries, PNG once being a protectorate of Australia.

In fact, this has been a great feature of the project with people contacting me about owning original Kauage paintings as treasures of their time in PNG, and wanting to purchase the book in Australia. So if you are a publishing house looking for a colouring in book with a difference—one that gives back to the community and focuses the celebration of culture through Indigenous art—Michael and I would love to hear from you!

In 2016, we aim to formalise ourselves, get a webpage up and running and sort out our distribution. This has been a chance to test the market and we now feel we are ready to fly (like the beautiful bird of paradise).

Release your creativity … and colour!

See the Colour Me PNG Facebook page right here

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