Timothy Akis, Interpreter

Timothy Akis (1944-1984), the artist often credited with beginning the contemporary scene in Papua New Guinea, began drawing in order to communicate ideas that he could express in no other way to outsiders. In the 1960s, while working as an interpreter for visiting linguists and anthropologists in his native Simbai Valley*, Akis drew flora and fauna for which he didn't have names in the lingua franca, Tok Pisin. In 1969, these came to the attention of British expatriate artist Georgina Beier, who introduced Akis to new materials and techniques. Beier was astonished at his rapid progress:

 "Akis produced some forty drawings during these intense weeks. His work attained a pure perfection, a completeness. One wonders how a man can achieve such refinement and sophistication with a new medium in such a phenomenally short time." [1]

 Six weeks later, he had his first exhibition at the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby*. The show gained him an immediate following in the capital, and impressed other artists who soon began their own explorations of new styles and methods. Among those he worked beside in the new Centre for New Guinea Cultures studio in subsequent years were Mathias Kauage, Martin Morububuna, and Ruki Fame, now three of the country's best-known artists.

 Shortly after his first exhibition, Akis returned to Simbai. From that time until his premature death in 1984, he made regular trips to the city to develop his art, then returned home to farm, take care of his family, and participate in village life. His work went on to be exhibited abroad in Australia, Fiji, the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Switzerland, and the Philippines. [2]

 Akis created highly personal works not illustrative of traditional stories but often using subjects from in and around his village. He disliked explaining it, and when pressed to do so, would sometimes invent stories to satisfy his audience. Once, when asked how he made his pictures, he replied, "I don't do them: my hand does." [3] That hand will conduct the rest of your tour.

 - Dan Lepsoe


 * Locations:

 With Google Earth installed, you can see on the globe where Akis lived and worked by downloading placemarks for Tsembaga Village, Akis' home in the Western Highlands, and for Port Moresby, PNG's capital and the centre of the contemporary scene he helped found.


More information:

 - Akis biography by Pamela Rosi (includes selected exhibitions)

 - Papua New Guinea Prints by Melanie Eastburn (excellent new book on the subject; includes hundreds of illustrations)

 - Online essay on PNG printmaking by Melanie Eastburn, written for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia (external link)


References:

 1. Beier, Ulli (1970). Akis Drawings. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: Centre for New Guinea Culture, University of Papua New Guinea.

 2. Rosi, Pamela S. (1998). Nation-Making and Cultural Tensions: Contemporary Art from Papua New Guinea. Chestnut Hill, MA: Hess Gallery, Pine Manor College.

 3. Eastburn, Melanie (2007). [link] Papua New Guinea Prints. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. Quote from p. 17.

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