TORRES STRAIT

The art of invention

Taking off from the Horn Island (Ngurapai) Airport just to the north of the tip of Cape York Peninsula and the top of the Australian mainland we track east to Erub. Papua New Guinea is to the north and the Australian mainland to the south west. Below us the Great Barrier Reef in its shallow and warming seas.

"Ken Thaiday Snr has contemporised the culture of headdress making, mobilising his work with complex systems of strings and pulleys so his machines move in ingenious ways and as one with the dance's choreography as the shark's mouth opens and then snaps shut"

Down below are the coral cays and islands of the Torres Strait with their striking Melanesian cultures and a set of local languages distinct from the Australian mainland.

In our plane, Ken Thaiday Snr, Andrea, Rob, our pilot and I. Ahead is Erub and we are visiting with artist and friend Ken Thaiday Snr. Down below and nearby the Melanesian cultures of New Guinea and the Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait), the power of Melanesian art, extraordinary still.

The islands of the Zenadth Kes, beautiful and green and gold in their sparkling sea, pass us by, not far below. The white caps of the gentle waves visible on island shore. For the island people of the Zenadth Kes, the sea and what it contains are central to culture and life.

Ken in his studio 2014

Early this year (2016) we join Ken again in the North of Australia as he prepares to make his journey to Monaco and the exhibition Taba Naba at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Ken is both an artist and inventor, his mechanical and Heath Robinson complexities of moving art are ever evolving. For Monaco, the scale is grand and his Dhari works created in collaboration with Jason Christopher, are some six metres high. While not exactly Ken’s famous dance machines, these giant Dhari’s, the ritual headdresses so important in the Zenadth Kes, tell the viewer exactly where they are. And that is the Zenadth Kes.

Ken on Erub

Andrea, Ken and Elizabeth 2016

Ken and I are about the same age and over the years I have come to think of him as a brother. It is always great to see him and wonderful for Andrea and I to catch up with Elizabeth again.

Ken reflects on the coming of the light, Kemus shore, Erub