Oceanic Arts Australia, the fine Oceanic Art Gallery owned & run by Todd Barlin is based in Sydney Australia. For the past 38 years we have been providing Fine Oceanic Art from Papua New Guinea & West Papua (Irian Jaya) The Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Polynesia, Micronesia & Australian Aboriginal Art. We have supplied artworks & expertise to many of the finest public & private Museums & Art Galleries & Private Collections around the world.
My first trip to Papua New Guinea ignited a lifelong interest and interaction with Pacific People; their Art and their Culture, leading to him making over 40 trips over the years to Papua New Guinea, Indonesian West Papua, Vanuatu and The Solomon Islands. I would stay in remote villages for days, weeks and even months at a time. It was a chance to get to know people and let them get to know you. I lived as they did, ate what they had each day and also suffered problems such as malaria and dengue fever.
Despite the fortuitous and unpredictable circumstances, this was a magical pre-digital era – before the internet, mobile phones or television exposed remote villages to the outside world. I often stayed for six to eight months a year travelling in remote areas and for that time it was as if the rest of the world did not exist.”
I was away most of the time in New Guinea and West Papua and in 1991 Robert Bleakley at Sotheby’s Australia recognised the expertise and passion in Todd for oceanic art and culture and hired him as their Tribal Art Expert where he stayed for 5 years.
When talking about his career, one of the things Todd is most proud of are the artworks that he has been able to source for Public Museums and Art Galleries and the money that he has been able to donate to support indigenous education in Australia through the Australian Indigenous Education Fund (AIEF) and other charities, including the Women’s Community Shelters, these are things that I am very proud of.
Todd played a pivotal role in bringing particularly New Guinean and West Papuan cultures to international audiences around the millennium. He provided the field documentation and artworks for several important exhibitions, The Asmat & Mimika in 1996 and The Marind Anim in 1999, both at the Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie in Paris, now all moved to the new Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac. As Todd recounts, “now when you walk into the Oceanic Art Pavilion at the Quai Branly, the first things you see are the monumental ancestor poles from the Asmat and Mimika along with a four-metre long Asmat soul canoe, dance costumes and shields all which I field collected in the 1980s”. Another highlight of Todd’s career was the support he provided to the Oceanic Art Society’s ambitious contribution to the Sydney Olympic Arts Festival in 2000 with the exhibition of the Monumental Sculptures of West Papua at the Sydney College of the Arts.
More recently he worked closely with the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre for four years from 2010-2014 loaning many items from his collection to support the annual Pacific Collections and Community Engagement programs
I was often lucky to be in the right place at the right time to witness and record preparation for ceremonies, making of artworks and other spiritual practices, many of the elderly and senior men in the villages were particularly generous to include me in their thoughts about their ancient traditions that seemed to be on the cusp of being lost. They appreciate that I was interested in their culture. They encouraged me to photograph and film in order to help preserve their culture for future generations. I have a photographic archive of over 9000 field photos where he hopes they will be accessed and used by the descendants of the people photographed for years to come.