Vanuatu is very different from other Pacific nations. Traditional practices better known as Kastom remain strong even after a century of dual colonial religious influences. Kastom: Art of Vanuatu presents for the first time the unique collection of arts from this area held by the National Gallery of Australia. In the early 1970s the Gallery contracted an agent to field collect in Vanuatu resulting in the acquisition of nearly two hundred works, a selection of which will be accompanied by other important works from the NGA’s Vanuatu collection.
An array of compelling sculptures created for ritual events include the towering four metre figure Maghe ni Hivwir created from tree fern to Ramparamp – the life sized effigies of chiefly men which enabled them to live beyond death. Upright slit drums Atingting hewn of entire tree trunks topped with big eyed faces, sculptures of otherworldly beings in wood, tree fern, clay and stone all feature with the exhibition alongside one of the oldest scientifically dated works from Vanuatu a rare mask known as Chubwan.
Through the NGA’s rich collection it can be seen that Kastom is an inseparable part of Ni-Vanuatu culture, a vibrant living culture where the arts produced for traditional purposes, as recently as the early 1970s, are remarkably comparable to those of long ago.