Update on the Health of Sepik Master Carver, Teddy Balangu
By Carol Mayer
Photo Submitted by Carol Mayer. Teddy Carving in the Moa
Last Fall, PPP and Friends were disturbed to hear of a medical crisis facing long-time friend Teddy Balangu, a master carver in the Sepik Region of Papua New Guinea. Several of his Canadian friends took a collection to help with travel and medical interventions necessary for his treatment. After a long delay without response, PPP was delighted to receive a call from Teddy last week noting he is back in his home village and in remission. He expressed gratitude to all his friends, including PPP Board Member and Museum of Anthropology Curator Carol Mayer who shared the following:
Teddy Balangu is without doubt one of the most accomplished artists to have emerged from the Sepik region of Papua New Guinea. He was born in Palembei Village to a large family of artists who were trained to carve by fathers and uncles. In 1995, he was one of twelve carvers selected to spend six months in residence at Stanford University in California, where he worked alongside other Sepik artists to create a group of monumental works known as the New Guinea Sculpture Garden. Since then his works have been exhibited and/or collected in New Caledonia, Canada, Australia, Germany, France and the United States.
The long and rewarding relationship between Teddy Balangu and the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology (MOA) in Vancouver began in 2006 when he was awarded the Andrew Fellowship, a three-month residency in the creating and performing arts at MOA. Carol Mayer, curator for the Pacific collections, travelled to the Sepik with Salish artist John Marston to meet him and give him the travel documents needed for him to come to MOA. He and John became firm friends and their friendship was central to the video “Killer Whale and Crocodile” that was filmed in Papua New Guinea and British Columbia. John later carved a stunning panel in honour of his visit to Teddy and his village that now resides at MOA. Teddy’s grandchild is named after John’s son (Noah) and they are now considered brothers, thereby forming a permanent link between the two families.
Photo Submitted by Carol Mayer.
Teddy carved two clan poles during his time at MOA. One is now permanently on display in the Multiversity Gallery and the other is installed in Vantage College on UBC Campus.
Carol Mayer visited Teddy’s village 3 times since his residency here, and he has returned to MOA twice. During one visit, Carol and MOA designer Skooker Broome created a video exploring concerns about the environmental challenges created by impending mining activity at the head of the Sepik shared by Teddy and others. This was featured in the recent exhibition “In the Footprint of the Crocodile Man” held at MOA, an exhibition that was as much about advocacy as it was about contemporary art. MOA’s relationship with Teddy and other artists along the Sepik continues to this day, and we have recently hosted four more artists from the area at MOA.
Teddy is now a respected elder in his village and recently installed water towers, funded by international cosmetic philanthropist, LUSH, to combat the expected pollution of the rivers by the impending mining activity at the head of the river. When he spoke to a group of people that Carol Mayer took to his village in 2017, Teddy’s enthusiasm for the Water Tower project and his commitment to the well-being of his village, his culture and the world around him was very apparent. His recent illness slowed him down, but now he is back in the village, feeling well and prepared to continue his work. Carol Mayer is looking forward to seeing him again during her next visit.