ÖMIE ARTISTS (Inc.) is a cooperative of Ömie tribeswomen barkcloth painters from Oro Province in Papua New Guinea.
Barkcloth is the traditional textile of the Ömie tribe. Women wear nioge (skirts) while men wear givai (loincloths). Barkcloth serves important purposes in marriage, funerary and initiation ceremonies as well as being an integral part of everyday life. Ömie barkcloths are still worn today by men, women and children during traditional ceremonies which can involve feasting and spectacular performances of singing, dancing and kundu-drumming. Barkcloth is so important to the Ömie that one of the key events in their creation story details how the first woman, Suja, beat the first barkcloth. Nioge have been produced by Ömie women for gallery exhibitions since the cooperative was founded in 2004.
Ömie Artists is fully owned and governed by Ömie people. Five Art Centres service artists across twelve villages and each of the centres play a vital role by ensuring that the ancient tradition of barkcloth painting as well as traditional culture remain strong and by providing economic returns to their artists. Income generated from sales allows artists and their families access to essential services such as hospitals and secondary schools, and necessities such as medicine, clothes and tools for building houses, hunting and subsistence farming that are otherwise unavailable to them in their remote homelands. Ömie Artists’ Manager works closely with a Committee of Art Centre Coordinators to facilitate sustainable production and ethical sales of artists’ works and to protect the rights of the artists. The Manager and Committee also work in close consultation with Chiefs and elders to ensure that traditional clan copyright laws are upheld and cultural information is verified before distribution.
© B. King