Funded! This project was successfully funded on February 18, 2012.

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Going to Papua New Guinea to build, eat, craft, document, and learn with the Sawiyano Tribe. Creating relationships, essays and art.

Hello! My name is Brian Nigus and I am a multi-media sculptor and performance artist who enjoys thinking about architecture, space and ecology. I will be traveling to the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea during this upcoming Summer of 2012 and I need help funding this project!  I will be doing lots of different things during my time on the island, but there are, more or less, three things that I will be working on.

  • 1. DOCUMENTARY: Bethany Kalk grew up in this area and has permission from the elders to do a documentary that focuses on the arts and crafts of the Sawiyano tribe. She and I will be training the tribe members in using sound and video equipment to help in the creation of the video. This documentary will bring awareness to these amazing people and help to bring attention to an island in the midst of a mining crisis. Mining companies are buying up the land and stripping it of all its rich nutrients in order to find gold, copper, and silver. The processes that these companies use destroy the ecosystem, and indigenous tribes are forced to relocate due to the contamination. In addition to the documentary, we will also be making a making a booklet with the assistance of the tribe. Due to the low literacy rates in the region (and most of the island) - this booklet will have detailed illustrations and photos in addition to text in Tok Pisin, the main trade language of the island. This pamphlet will be made available for dissemination throughout the island so that remote tribes will have information they need to be wary of the mining companies who barely compensate the tribes for their land.
  • 2. SCHOOL: We will be setting up a school for the tribe to teach basic literacy. This will not be the "typical" school though. In addition to teaching basic reading, writing and math, we will be creating posters and information regarding safe health practices. Some traditional tribal beliefs can be harmful. For example, the tribe believes that when you are dehydrated and having diarrhea, you should stop drinking. In an area where protein is hard to come by, there are many beliefs regarding pregnancy that lead to high infant mortality rates. For example, it is believed that a pregnant woman who eats turtle meat will give birth to a baby with a shell. We know that water helps dehydration, and that pregnant women need diverse diets in order to have healthy babies. These are the sorts of things we will bring attention to. The school will also be a space for discussion, art, and a meeting ground for learning. The tribe has been surviving for centuries (if not longer) and they don't really need a school per say, but with the threat of mining companies and being taken advantage of, we feel the need to intervene and help. Most rural citizens of New Guinea speak both their tribal tongue and the trade language of Tok Pisin. Some adults in the tribe know how to read and write due to early missionaries and a short-lived government school. But their children need to have these skills also, so that they may communicate better with outsiders who threaten their way of living. We are always thinking of what is needed for the tribe, and understanding of how their myth and ritual is integrated into their lives. As little as is possible to disturb we want to do our best to help preserve and advance their ways of life.
  • 3. ART & CULTURE As an artist myself, I also have a duty to create my own work and help bring awareness to this tribe through my art practice. I will be watching, listening, and learning the ways of building houses, carved out boats, and various craft activities from the tribe. I will do my own interpretations of these findings through found object sculptures, performances with various tribe members, essays, and film and video. I will take cues from their own myths and rituals, integrating this new awareness into my own art practice.

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This adventure actually stemmed out of a funny little network connection while working on a collaboration with, amongst others, Caleb Coppock. We did the usual introduction and talked about how we were involved in the project. He was there for projections, and I was there to build the screen being projected on. A perfect match! We also both happened to be graduates from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and were friends with Bethany Kalk, his peer, my teacher, and vise versa for that matter. We talked about our adventures through life and we came upon the subject of studying abroad and how I lived in a shipping container while in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Eventually, this less-home-ness in Holland had inspired my senior thesis, where I created a trailer home meditation chamber. I used the trailer to see various points of America throughout my senior year. We both got excited about this efficient living idea and the various consequences involved. It was great! And then, he must have said something to our friend Bethany, because then Bethany contacted me via facebook.

Hey Brian,
My friend Caleb told me he really enjoyed meeting you. I'm glad you met!

I still live in KY and travel to Omaha every few months for the Peerless gallery.

I went to your site and I read that travel is part of your process...if you have your next summer open...

I Just wanted to let you know that I am going to New Guinea (where i grew up) summer 2012 so if you are looking for a different kind of trip, you are welcome to come. It is super remote (no roads or electricity or running water) in the rainforest near the border of Irian Jaya and New Guinea. Of course it is beautiful & inspiring - but also rather primitive living conditions. Its not cheap - probably around $5000 for all the international and domestic. I will be doing a documentary on the traditional arts & crafts of the Sawiyano tribe. A few friends have told me they want to come but all I know for sure is that I am going. I'm hoping I can get a friend of mine who is an actual video person to come too. And my dad, as he knows the tribal language far better than myself, I can manage but mostly speak the trade language (tok pisin).... ...

And the conversation went on from there! After further discussion, I was introduced to the idea of being an assistant to her film. This was exciting to me, because my own plans on the island involved the learning and soaking up of new cultural practices and traditions. This seemed like a fast-track to being able to see everything I would want to, and then some! While I was in Beijing, I had time to discover things on my own, but nothing to really quite perpetuate new lessons, aside from my everyday being. Providing assistance for a couple hours out of each day will facilitate even more lessons and experiences for me to learn from! (SIDE NOTE: In years previous to this, I had taken several ecology classes from an amazing teacher named Ruth Voights, and we had talked of Papua New Guinea every semester. It almost seems unreal that I now have the actual opportunity to visit!) 

Bethany has sent me a small book on tok pisin to start learning the language, and I've started saving $20 from every night from delivering pizzas to start saving for the trip! I even received a grant from the Penny Grant Foundation to fund a project while I am there. I received 500 pennies that I will be giving away to tribe members for each lesson they teach me. This will hopefully start a discussion on trade and value between myself and the tribe members, as well as back in the states, when the documentation is brought back. The pennies will most likely serve as small tokens or souvenirs from myself, having their commercial value stripped away, and replaced with a more intrinsic value. Basically, another excuse to make more friends and start more discussions!

I am asking for $7,000 to not only cover the cost of the $5,000 trip fare, but also to help cover the cost of materials for the school, book publishing, and postage! The money I am currently saving from pizza delivery will be put towards all of my costs I have to cover while I am away for the summer (rent, loans, bills, etc). This opportunity is one I am truly excited for and I hope you can donate! I can't wait to share these experiences with you! Thanks!

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