Pigments, patterns and pictures in Papua New Guinea

Colour

The use of colour is important in many regions of Papua New Guinea. It is often believed that both the carving and colouring of an object will increase its potency or power in ceremonial use. 

 

Paints

Paints were traditionally made from local soils, plants or animals. Pigments could be extracted from local clays, natural plant dyes, insects, charcoal and ground up shell. Yellow, red and brown colours were made from the different local clays, coloured by oxides. White was made from ground and powdered lime, which was extracted from the inside of clamshells. Black and grey derive from charcoal or soot. Sometimes the pigments were baked in leaf packets, which intensified the colours. These pigments were then mixed with water, nut oil or tree sap. The paints were applied using twig or plant fibres often with the end chewed to make a brush effect. Sometimes paint was applied directly by finger, or bird feathers used for a finer finish. Nowadays, modern paints are available at trading stores and used in traditional designs.  

 

Patterns and motifs

Papua New Guinean art is often based on human or animal shapes, which are combined or distorted to produce bold and sometimes grotesque and fantastical imagery. For example, a human face is often exaggerated by the elongation of the nose that protrudes down to the lower body. The animal world also provides a rich source for motifs; crocodiles, turtles, lizards, fish and birds such as the hornbill, cassowary, eagles and frigate birds are frequently seen. These are combined with geometric or curvilinear patterns to produce a vibrant and varied array of pictures and sculptures.