The National Gallery building stands opposite the High Court, in a nice parkland area which is one of Honiara’s few public spaces on the waterfront. The park, which is a popular local hangout and has a good outdoor band venue, features a variety of ‘display’ custom leaf houses, and also totem poles, like the one shown below. It is the last in a series that flank the main walkway to the gallery.
The presence of the totems and all the people outside builds an atmosphere of expectation as you walk toward the gallery and, finding the doors open, walk inside. Unfortunately, there’s no-one inside to greet you, and nearly all the artwork is gone. I don’t know where it went, but I presume it was moved or stolen during the tensions. The display rooms all lie empty except for the ocassional bit of debris left by squatters (caretakers?) that are sometimes around the place. Several of the hallways smell vaugely of urine, but apart from that, the place is in good condition. It hasn’t been vandalised, and the electricity is still on.
Upstairs are more display areas, including this one, which contains the last remaining piece of art in the gallery. This might give some idea of the nature of the whole collection, or it might not – perhaps it survived because it was too big to move.
Also up here is the office. I’d make some ironic comment about the filing system except that it reminds me of my own.
I’ve been in there twice now. The first time, there was a group of guys living in the kitchen, who gave me a friendly greeting, but they weren’t there today although there was evidence of some people still living there. Today, I met several local guys who were just hanging about near the payphone. Perhaps one of them was told by someone to keep an eye on me, as he followed me for a bit while I took photos and chatted to me, but when I asked him if he was a caretaker, he said no, he was just hanging around. As for the others, they were just, ah, checking out their National Gallery? Who knows what they were doing. Somehow the place still seems to function as a public space even though it is empty.
There was also a group of lads out in the courtyard keeping down the weeds and grass with their bush knives but I don’t know who was paying for them to do this or why they were bothering. So, I find myself wondering what is going on there, and hoping that the gallery will get back on its feet at some point soon. But in particular, I wonder why the building is still open. In Australia this would be locked up and fenced off, straightaway.
We’ve purchase one local painting for our living room but apart from that we’ve not had much to do wth the ‘fine art’ scene here and I suspect it is dormant, although I might simply be out if the loop. Local handcrafts, however, are alive and well. A huge tree at the front of the Art Gallery park makes a good base for a group of weavers who make billums / bags / baskets for tourists and locals alike. They charge decent prices and seem to do pretty well – twice now I’ve had my eye on one that was gone when I returned the following day.
Anyway, that’s the art gallery at present. This might just be me, but it somehow seems to attract and capture a strong sense of peaceful comunity activity and patient expectation, even though it is almost entirely empty. I’m hopeful it will be open by the time we leave, but this could be a forlorn hope, as I doubt that art is really a top priority for government expenditure at the moment. We’ll see.