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)


 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.

20 Item(s)

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  1. Bilak Bokis (Flying Fox) by Timothy Akis

    Bilak Bokis (Flying Fox)

  2. Longpela Gras (Long Hair) II by Timothy Akis
  3. Man I Sutim Muruk (Man Shooting Cassowary) by Timothy Akis
  4. Pukpuk Meri Na Man I Gat Tupela Het (Crocodile Woman and Two-Headed Man) by Timothy Akis
  5. Faipela Pikinini I Stap Long Bel Bilong Meri (Five Children in a Woman's Belly) by Timothy Akis
  6. Man I Hait Namel Long Tupela Ston (Man Hiding Between Two Stones) by Timothy Akis
  7. Palai (Gecko) by Timothy Akis

    Palai (Gecko)

  8. Wanpis (Alone) by Timothy Akis

    Wanpis (Alone)

  9. Doc (Dog) by Timothy Akis

    Doc (Dog)

  10. Muruk 1 (Cassowary 1) by Timothy Akis

    Muruk 1 (Cassowary 1)

  11. Meri Wantaim Muruk Na Pikinini (Woman with Cassowary and Child) by Timothy Akis
  12. Rat I Gat Longpela Lek (Long-Legged Rat) by Timothy Akis
  13. Binatang (Insect) by Timothy Akis

    Binatang (Insect)

  14. Longpela Gras (Long Hair) by Timothy Akis

    Longpela Gras (Long Hair)

  15. Man I Slip Wantaim Ol Samting Bilong Em (Dreaming Man; translation uncertain) by Timothy Akis
  16. Pukpuk I Kaikaim Kok Bilong Man (Crocodile Biting a Man's Penis) by Timothy Akis
  17. Faipela Man Wantaim Ol Gaden Bilong Ol (Five Men in Their Garden) by Timothy Akis
  18. Man I Gat Bilas Long Yau (Man with Big Earrings) by Timothy Akis
  19. Meri Wantaim Tripela Liklik Bilong Em (Woman with Her Three Little Ones) by Timothy Akis
  20. Tupela Kros (Angry Couple) by Timothy Akis

    Tupela Kros (Angry Couple)


20 Item(s)

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