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Erub/Lifou Project; Sea Journeys: people without borders

In 1871, English and Kanak missionaries sailed from Lifou, an island in New Caledonia, to Erub (Darnley Island) in the Torres Strait, to introduce Christianity. Many stayed, but it was not until 2011 that their descendants met on Erub to explore their common heritage and long-felt bonds.

A group of Erub artists – masters in charcoal drawing – travelled to Lifou in 2013 for a joint art project where the artists traced each other’s outlines in charcoal on long lengths of paper. The artists then recorded visual responses to their shared histories, a process expanded on for APT9.

Despite linguistic challenges, exciting narratives and images emerged relating to the sea journey of 1871. Charcoal figures float within a wave that forms connections with the future, while a woven mat, drawn as an integral part of a wave, symbolises a place to gather to share songs and stories. An image of people sailing away in a European boat, riding high on a wave, stands for washing away traditional life to introduce a new way of living.

As artist Racy Oui-Pitt, whose great-grandfather in 1871 was the cabin boy on the first missionary boat the Surprise, commented:

We are all connected, we made songs and stories, and now we make art . . . we are all under that one roof. We are all Melanesian people, living across the ocean, but Christianity has brought us together, and with today’s technology and our knowledge, we are finding one another again.

The spiritual links between people and their connection with the land and the sea underpin this contemporary project. Today, people travel between the islands by plane; however, the saltwater connection persists and these powerful drawings are testament to the ties that will always bring them together.