Papua Designs: Improving Lives while Creating Art by Maurine Shimlock
Florida takes my hand and guides the ink-saturated lino-block I’m holding to a blank piece of paper. In just a few seconds we release the block and the outline of a jellyfish with exceedingly long tentacles appears. The jellyfish is a new pattern at Papua Designs in Sorong where local women work together producing art based on traditional motifs.
We’re here because of an article Maria Kuhn published in May, 2018, on the Bird’s Head Seascape Website when she launched this “Women’s Empowerment Program through Art” (https://birdsheadseascape.com/regional/papua-designs-launches-maria-kuhn/). Depicting marine life, abstract patterns and every day objects in sophisticated ways, which are somewhat reminiscent of aboriginal paintings, the artists at Papua Designs have blurred the division between handicrafts and art.
Usually extremely shy, these women do not hide their joy while we watch them create future designs. Sharing tools, supplies, and stories about their daily lives, they have become a small, like-minded community. In a radical departure from traditional female roles in Papuan society, these women are learning how to run an economically sustainable business based on creativity.
In the workshop’s entryway Burt and I browse the display of finished art. We want one of everything, but finally settle on a pillow case printed with hornbills, a bag with multiple fish schooling across the front and an amazing silk scarf with dolphins dancing along the border. Back in the chilly Pacific Northwest I proudly wear my new scarf because it’s beautiful, and also because it reminds me of these warm-hearted, trailblazing Sorong women making art and history in the Bird’s Head.
Please visit Papua Designs the next time you are in Sorong. The shop contains some of the finest local artwork in the region. If you are shopping for souvenirs this is the place. The women work every afternoon, but call to confirm.
Papua Designs, Jl. Punchak Arfak, no. 8, rt/Rw 02/01 Klabala, Sorong 98413. Telephone + 62 813 38756048