Years in the making and a major project of dedication and passion for all involved, ReDot Fine Art Gallery, in association with Ömie Artists, are thrilled to finally present THE ART OF ISAWDI (FATE SAVARI), a solo exhibition of Isawdi (Fate Savari), undisputedly one of the most outstanding senior Ömie artists from Papua New Guinea.
Born circa 1933, well before first contact with the modern world for her remote region, Isawdi’s work has come to symbolise the connection between colliding cultures. The isolation from outside influence allowed her to hone her skills unreservedly in the ancient and rare art of barkcloth painting (sometimes referred to as “tapa art”), which is the primary artform created by the Ömie people. While barkcloth art has sadly become extinct across most continents of the world, it has miraculously survived to the present day in the remote villages of Ömie, deep in the interior mountains of Oro Province. In this idyllic time and place, Isawdi learnt a wealth of exquisite designs and motifs, that resonate with the beauty of her sacred mountain lands, as well as with her unique Melanesian culture.
For a master painter of this calibre to spring from this astonishing Pacific painting movement is truly a precious gift to not only Papua New Guinea’s artistic and cultural heritage, but to humanity at large. While we can identify similarities between Isawdi’s art and other world indigenous artforms—such as the abstract symbolism predominantly based on the natural world—for those paying close attention and able to discern the fine nuances, what Isawdi is presenting to us is wholly unique in its scope and vision, and a monumental achievement for her people and culture.
Alongside her breath taking barkcloth paintings, a never seen before suite of 88 works on paper is also presented, documenting the magnitude of her vision in splendid detail. These extraordinary works are an explosion of artistic knowledge transposed to a medium more familiar to the global public, allowing a permanent marker and representation of her culture for future generations of Ömie.
This suite, of never seen before works on paper, draws parallels to the 1971-1972 Papunya boards. The measure of Isawdi’s importance to Omie culture cannot be overstated. Isawdi is to Ömie as Shorty Lungkata Tjungurrayi, Kaapa Tjampitjinpa and Johnny Warrangkula Tjupurrula, to name but three, were to the pioneers of the early Papunya Tula Art Movement.
Another parallel that comes to mind is the Yirrkala crayon drawings of 1947, an unrivalled document of Yolngu knowledge and law. These 365 works were made by the senior leaders of the Yirrkala community through their collaboration with the anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt. The major difference is that Isawdi’s works on paper were a self-initiated desire to share culture, not encouraged by external forces. The painstaking documentation of the Yirrkala drawings done by the Berndt’s is—in this instance of Isawdi’s works—undertaken by the relentless passion of Brennan King, the Ömie Artists manager, to ensure that this culture is preserved as accurately as possible for future generations. His exhibition catalogue essay, ’Seeing through the Eyes of the Heart: The Art of Isawdi (Fate Savari)’ examines her art and this particular body of work in tremendous depth, as well as providing a rare and intimate account of her remarkable life and world view.
Isawdi’s work is the pith—the absolute essence of her culture and we hope that this exhibition goes some way in affirming Isawdi’s rightful legacy as one of the most important contemporary Pacific artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Isawdi’s art can be viewed in public institutional collections around the world with the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) being a very early supporter of this artistic powerhouse along with Museum Victoria. International institutions such as the Fowler Museum at the UCLA, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge and the British Museum also boast collections of Isawdi’s art.