Public diplomacy

Kastom: A rich expression of the art of Vanuatu

February to June 2013

DFAT is proud to support Kastom, a major exhibition of art from Vanuatu at the National Gallery of Australia. The title, adapted from the English “custom”, underlines Vanuatuan reverence for culture, ceremony and tradition.

The exhibition was curated from the National Gallery’s collections of Melanesian art by curator of Pacific art Crispin Howarth.

“Thankfully, as early as the late 1960s the Commonwealth Arts Advisory Board, under the chairmanship of painter Sir William Dargie, had the foresight to turn its attention to establishing a meaningful representation of arts from the Pacific region in the national collection,” said Mr Howarth.

In 1972 the board commissioned a French linguist, Jean-Michel Charpentier, to work closely with communities and collect works over a full year. Much of the collection consists of those wonderful works – masks, ceremonial sculptural figures, weapons, and complex sand drawings.

At the exhibition opening, on 7 February 2013, gallery director Ron Radford thanked DFAT and the Australian High Commission in Vanuatu for allocating funds through the International Cultural Visitors program.

“This generous funding enabled ni-Vanuatu cultural representatives to participate, and to attend the exhibition opening,” Mr Radford said.

Recently arrived Vanuatu High Commissioner Kalfau Kaloris gave a well-received speech, his first official speech in Australia, at the Kastom opening.

“How do we Vanuatuans preserve our traditional values and customs against a constant wave of foreign influence?” he asked.

“Times have changed, but we believe that our connections with the land remain, in our soul, and in our spirit,” the High Commissioner said.

 “An exhibition such as Kastom is not only a promotion of our culture, but a strong reminder for the people of Vanuatu that our history is relevant to our ever-changing societies and communities.

“For us, the ni-Vanuatu, exhibitions like this must be a constant reminder of who we are.”

Kastom is on show at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, until 16 June 2013.

Crispin Howarth, the National Gallery of Australia's curator of Pacific art, shows Vanuatu High Commissioner Kalfau Kaloris through the Kastom exhibition
Crispin Howarth, the National Gallery of Australia's curator of Pacific art, shows Vanuatu High Commissioner Kalfau Kaloris through the Kastom exhibition

The Department’s International Cultural Visits (ICV) program targets senior and influential figures in the arts and culture sector from priority regions to promote Australia’s cultural excellence in international circles. Through the program DFAT supported four key cultural figures from Vanuatu to participate in the events and public programs associated with the opening of Kastom at the National Gallery of Australia.  The participating visitors included sand artist Samantha Leo, the Curator of the National Museum of Vanuatu, and two representatives from the Vanuatu Cultural Centre.