Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology takes bite of doctor's arm with £25,000 Kauage painting

By Holly Isaac | 05 January 2010
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A picture of a multi-coloured, tribal painting of a child biting a doctor's arm

A flamboyant portrayal of an artist's resistance to an injection at primary school is heading to Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in a £25,000 deal.

Biting the Doctor's Arm (above) is a boldly-coloured 1990 scene by acclaimed Papua New Guinean painter Mathias Kauage.

It depicts an encounter between Australian medical staff and a group of Melanesian children and is a metaphorical reflection of the artist’s concerns over national independence and post-colonial sovereignty and freedom.

Nicholas Thomas, a Professor at the Museum, called the piece "an outstanding work".

"On the surface, it speaks to the experience of children the world over, and gives us a sense of how colonialism entered the lives of, and was seen by, Pacific Islanders," he added.

Kauage was one of the founding figures of modern art in the Pacific, and remains to date the most internationally celebrated Papua New Guinean artist to have worked in modern media.

He initially drew singular figures and creatures loosely inspired by Chimbu myth, but soon progressed to scenes of city life and political events.

Embracing colour, Kauage went on to produce major paintings based on Papua New Guinea's Independence in 1975 and his own experience, including his meeting with the Queen, who awarded him an OBE in 1998.

While his work came to be widely published and shown around the world, tough postcolonial circumstances in Papua New Guinea saw him selling works of the street outside hotels patronized by expatriates.

The painting was acquired by the museum with a £9,000 grant from the Art Fund. Biting the Doctor's Arm will be touring other UK venues later in the year.

designation logo with photo of a woman looking at displays

The collection of the University of Cambridge Museum of Anthropology is a Designated collection.

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