(The Netherlands)

My father in New Guinea

This project by Jellie Klaster consists of a book and an installation which were made during her graduation from Minerva Art Academy. Both the book and the installation were part of her research in to ‘family histories’.

In her parent’s house, when she was eight, Jellie found photos of her father in New Guinea. The story behind these photos was shrouded in mystery. Her father did not want to talk about it, when asked. That the photos were in the drawer of the dresser table, thoughtlessly left there in the midst of other stuff, only added to the mystery. Apparently the photos were not important enough to keep in an album. After his death, about forty years later, see leaves, photos in hand, to Papua (former New Guinea) to follow her fathers footsteps, hoping to learn more about his stay there in the 1950’s

The photos can be seen as anchor points which lead to family stories and histories that can tell us something about the identity of the family and the individual members.
Family photos are usually put in an album, in order to look back on mostly joyous events. Maybe her fathers photos did not belong to that category? Why not? What made these photos taboo?

The journey to Papua brings Jellie a lot of information. For instance that the Marines who were stationed there in ‘55/’56 had had a more thorough education than usual. For them to better serve their country overseas, an important part of their education was ‘depersonalisation’ or ‘de-individualisation’. Maybe this de-individualisation contributed to her fathers silence?

In Papua she meets the family of an important activist who, after the failed battle for independence of Papua, has lived in exile in the Netherlands since 1962. The family members tell how they cannot acknowledge and express their identities as Papuas. They have to be Indonesians, the government feels. This of course is also a form of depersonalisation. Jellie sees the same thing with the tribes in the Baliem valley, whom she meets during her travels. Multiple tribes are fighting to keep their identity, but at the same time, they sell themselves to tourists, in order to acquire money, which they think will buy them freedom.

The theme of identity and de-individualisation are central to the project. Which identity does her father have as a Marine and a father? The search for answers by means of anchor points like photos and stories of friends and Papuas is still an ongoing research, next to Jellies practice as a three-dimensional artist.