A PNG White Flag

Image by Printz Photography for Aaron Fein

During the first phase of our constitutional crisis last year, when the main issue was whether we had one or two prime ministers, I had proposed that we wear white shirts to show our protest of the political impasse. This later influenced the performance art of “Journey Through the Stain’s” work “Quarter to Twelve“. It was therefore interesting to come across the ‘White Flags‘ installation in the US when I was there recently.

Artist Aaron Fein’s ‘White Flags’ were inspired by the September 11 attacks and revolved around the idea of what our flags would look like if they all faded away over time to white. I imagine that along with the uniform whiteness, would come the question of whether we are all really the same internally despite the exterior differences.

Aaron Feins work seems to have also inspired another performance art project, called White Soldier. In the same vein of analysing the core values of who we are against the stark differences of countries at war with each other, artist Yudu Braun uses his art to look at the tensions between Jews and Arabs. As he describes it, “The mundane presence of the soldier, when whitened, surfaces the emotional-national complexity of the intense daily life led by people on both sides of the border. Performing among bystanders in the streets confronts them with the harsh absurdity of a violent reality in a manner which cannot be ignored, hence forcing the viewers to re-evaluate their relations with their convoluted surroundings.”

High concept art, can be thought provoking but one can feel disengaged if there is no personal attachment to the subject of the art. We may not fully understand what it’s like to live in the tensions of the Gaza Strip nor may we fully understand the horrors of the September 11 attacks. Therefore some room for personal interpretation of the art becomes apparent, especially for myself being from the South Pacific.

So what drew me further into the art of ‘White Flags’ ended up being the simple act of my close family friends Lise and Ira donating a PNG flag to the White Flags installation. As Lise explained to me yesterday, they donated the flag to the project to honor the memory of my uncle Bernard Narokobi, who she described as being deeply committed to reaching across borders to enrich our common humanity.

As I looked at the flag, I could not help but feel as though whitening the flag drained out all the life (both good and bad) of what PNG is. So to me the white flag became more of a compelling question of what it means to be a country and what we want to do with this country. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also feel the weight of what my uncle contributed to the birth of PNG and so I have to ask, where are we going?

When we’ve stripped back all the smoke and mirrors and fun and games, at the end of the day, what are we really about in PNG and where do we want to go as a nation?

4 thoughts on “A PNG White Flag

  1. Emmanuel, honestly, as I lay awake at 3:30 am this morning, I thought of the last years and last months, and remembering your uncle and wishing he was here with us. Then I thought I will post a trubute to him on Sharp Talk, but I won’t steal your show, but will support you.

  2. I too, have powerful memories of your Uncle Bernard, as a non-PNG-an with a love of your country [and as a contributor, I hope, in various roles]. I also taught your Aunt Regina in Grade 4 at Kreer, and have always followed your family as far as possible from this distance.
    Emmanuel, in a different role, you also contribute mightily to PNG in its current time of need – keep the flag of freedom flying!

  3. While on the topic of my uncle, Paul Oates sent me an email last night with an interesting question. Are our problems, really Melanesian, as in aren’t they fairly universal when it comes to issues with governance?

    And if its not really a Melanesian problem, then we do we seek a Melanesian answer?

    Let us know what you think.



    UNTIL YOU EFFECTIVELY isolate the problem you can’t effectively define a solution.

    There are many problems affecting the political leadership of every nation in the world. And, if you look at nations now or in previous times, you will see the same problems arising as are currently evident in Papua New Guinea.

    Why? Because Papua New Guineans are no different to the other people in the world. Some 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Plato observed: ‘Those who are too intelligent to apply for public office end up being ruled by those who are not’.

    So might the only difference might be in the circumstances that exist at the time and not the people.

    If the current circumstances in PNG could be dissected, like the ancient Roman auguries who predicted the future by examining the entrails of animals, what might be revealed? What is the health of the obvious organs that can be discerned at first sight?

    Firstly there’s the heart of the nation. Some claim it’s a Melanesian heart yet there are many different ethnicities that make up today’s PNG: Polynesian (Trobriands) and Micronesian (Manus) are just two examples.

    People along the Papuan coast might find they have some things in common with Malay traders going back hundreds of years.

    If one were to try and align the diversity of the Highlands with its myriad of cultures and languages, would there be a commonality emerging or the complete opposite?

    Then there’s the nation’s liver. A vital organ, but one nonetheless notoriously famous for allegedly causing sour and caustic views on the world if it suffering from too much excess.

    Similar statements about ‘venting one’s spleen’ also seem to go with together with a ‘liverish’ view of the world.

    Could the fact that PNG’s liver is suffering from an excess of too many ‘good things’ be responsible for the increasingly pessimistic views being expressed?

    Talking of too many good things, the nation’s alimentary system is clearly overloaded with large amounts of political candy covered handouts that are becoming difficult to swallow or, if forcibly shoved down your throat and ingested, just too hard to stomach.

    Hmmm…. Perhaps that’s the reason why some are now inferring that everything coming from Parliament seems to turn to…… ummm….

    So what if the problem is not exclusively Melanesian, why search for a Melanesian answer?

    Perhaps that’s the first problem to isolate.

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