A photography exhibition featuring more than 200 images that explore the phenomenal complexity of modern life is being staged at the National Gallery of Victoria from 13 September to 2 February 2020.
Titled Civilisation: The Way We Live Now, the exhibition will feature images from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe.
Among the images is series dedicated to the ‘blood generation’ of young people born during the bitter and prolonged war between Papua New Guinea and the people of Bougainville (1988–98). The war, which was triggered by external interests in mining and sustained by local acts of political self-determination, resulted in 20,000 deaths and forced many Bougainvilleans to desert their villages in fear of their lives.
Bougainville-born artist Taloi Havini and Australian photographer Stuart Miller explore the repercussions of copper mining and armed conflict on the young people of the region and address the destruction of the natural environment that, for matrilineal societies of Bougainville and Buka, is foundational to their political and social organisation.
The image shown above, Sami and the Panguna mine, revisits a moment in history when female landowners in Bougainville protested against the gouging of their land by mining. In a powerful manifestation of opposition, dissenting mothers held their children, squatted and chained themselves to the mine’s earth-moving trucks in protest.
The National Gallery of Victoria describes the image as a magical and numinous image, yet its dark and traumatic history, as the heart of the Bougainville war, insinuates its presence through a row of burnt and rusted heavy equipment left behind when the Panguna mine closed in 1990. Sami, a child refugee, escaped with her family to Honiara in the Solomon Islands before obtaining refugee status in the Netherlands. The white cloud rising over the hills suggests that nature is there to welcome and shield Sami as she re-enters contested matrilineal land where the world’s largest open-cut mine of its time once stood. A pool of aquamarine-coloured water at the bottom of the pit, contaminated with the copper solution, is the result of a leaching process still happening today.
Siwai on the airstrip shows a young man from Siwai, a large area of the coast, central plains and hinterland of Bougainville. He is dressed in torn jeans and a hessian bag embellished with an image of a skull, which reflects the style of today’s Bougainville youth. In the background, other Siwai young men sit at the centre of the airstrip, as is customary, except when the landing of a plane forces them to move to the edge.
Gori standing in a Buka passage shows a young man standing in front of a narrow strait, less than a kilometre wide, which separates the Island of Buka from the northern part of Bougainville. Gori gazes directly into the camera as if to ask what happened, or to say, ‘I know what happened but I don’t understand why’. This is a common feeling among the blood generation, the silent victims of the Bougainville war, who were far too young to comprehend its inexorable repercussions.