Blood Generation is a collaborative exhibition between contemporary photographer Stuart Miller and artist Taloi Havini.
In 2009, Taloi invited Stuart to come and photograph a series of portraits dedicated to a tribe of young people known as the ‘Blood Generation’. This is a name that was given by my father’s generation to those children who were born into war, triggered from external interests in mining and sustained by acts of local political self-determination. In 1990, the people of Bougainville lived under an air, sea and military blockade for ten-years with a reported loss of twentythousand lives. Bougainville’s Indigenous landowner’s remain disheartened, displaced, and dissatisfied. The land issues remain unresolved and we ask ourselves – who is responsible for the ‘Blood Generation’?
Stuart has been interested in photography and imagery since a young age. At 18 he decided to study photography at the Canberra Institute of photography, achieving his Bachelor In Photography. Since graduating in 2004 he has been running his freelance photography business, concentrating on high end location photography. Specialising in advertising, fashion, and portraiture.Throughout his career he has always continue to work on his personal projects. With a strong interest in location portraiture. His work reflects his distinct style. Dark, dramatic, and consciously stylised.
Over the past three years Stuart has made two trips to photograph the people of Bougainville. With a close relationship to the country through family ties, he embraces the opportunity to photograph the people of Bougainville on both intimate and candid levels.
Today Stuart is working and living between Australia and London, with an ever growing practice in personal projects. Photographing people in their natural environment.
Taloi is a descendant of the Nakas clan, north-east of Buka Island, Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
Taloi is actively involved in cultural heritage projects, exhibitions, and community arts in Melanesia and in Australia. In 2002 she co-curated the ‘Yumi Yet’ exhibition as part of the Havini and Sirivi Families of the Bougainville community.
Taloi is a co-founding member of Pacific Black Box.
…to Bougainvilleans, land is like the skin on the back of your hand. You inherit it, and it is your duty to pass it on to your children in as good a condition as, or better than, that in which you received it. You would not expect us to sell our skin, would you? (Raphael Bele in The Bougainville Land Crisis, 1969: 29) cited in Bougainville: The Long Struggle for Freedom, Havini p.12)
Bougainvilleans are the only Indigenous peoples in the world to have ever shut down a giant mining company from operating (Havini 1997:1). Their position reinforces the view that past external policies did not benefit the majority of the population, but that land is far more complex and fundamental to the everyday lives of the Bougainville people. Instead since political autonomy local matrilineal land systems have been included in the Bougainville constitution, a validation that these experiences cannot be overridden purely to suit external interventions. To properly understand the local significance of land we must first consider Bougainville positions; the importance of land in the daily experience and their deeper workings as it relates to the broader social and political domains.
Bougainvillean society is described as village-based or largely agriculturally self- sustained through the cultivation of gardens and fishing. In accordance with matriarchal societies, much of the land is owned and inherited down the female line known as a matriliny (Saovana-Spriggs 2007). Although chieftainship is thought to be only held by males, women are important and respected authorities with well-defined roles in village life (Shoffner 1976).
The late 1960’s witnessed Papua New Guinea (PNG) come of age as an independent nation from the Australian Whitlam government. Bougainville remained high on the economic agenda when in 1967 the PNG House of Assembly passed the ‘Bougainville Copper Agreement’. Yet Bougainvilleans were not major stakeholders, only the PNG Government, its business arm Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) and the Australian owned mining company, Conzinc Rio-Tinto of Australia Limited (CRA). CRA brokered a deal that gained the largest profits of 53.6 per cent ownership, with 19.1 per cent shares for the PNG Government, and 27.3 per cent in public shares (Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia 1999: 17).
‘Land is our Life. Land is our physical life – food and sustenance. Land is our social life; it is marriage; it is status; it is security; it is politics; in fact it is our only world’. (Dove et al. 1974: 182).
The mine’s earnings produced from 1972 to 1989 over K5.1 billion in local currency that attributed to 44 per cent of PNG’s total exports (Davies 2005:28). At the site of the copper mine this caused widespread eviction of six Indigenous landowning territories. They witnessed first-hand the explosion of their sacred mountains turned into chunks of rocks crushed and washed down the main Kawerong and Yaba Rvers (Tanis 2005: 453).
The late 1970s saw the beginnings of an uprising by local landowners in Bougainville, which eventually developed into sustained conflict with the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG). At the centre of Bougainville people’s grievances were the appropriation and exploitation of traditional lands by mining interests and the support of these external interests by the PNG government. These mining activities whilst bringing new wealth to the region offered many benefits to expatriates but very few to the people of Bougainville (Havini & John 2001:144). Indeed, increasing numbers of traditional landowners found themselves destitute in small towns at the peripheries of the booming mining economy. At stake for people of Bougainville were the socio-political economies tied to customary lands anchored in traditional practices that governed many aspects of their daily life. For these societies, land is life; it is the basis of their political and social organisation, provides security that had to be struggled for and defended. Women squatted and chained themselves and their children to the earth moving trucks in protest. Matrilineal landowner Perpetua Serero became outspoken at the mines commencement and appealed:
“We don’t grow healthy crops anymore, our traditional customs and values have been disrupted and we have become mere spectators as our earth is being dug up, taken away and sold for millions. Our land was taken away from us by force. We were blind then, but we have finally grown to understand what’s going on” (cited in Havini, 2004).
The new Autonomous Bougainville Government remains under immense pressure from global economies to develop its natural resources from a ravaged and war-torn island. The question arises; will the Bougainville government and administration promote matrilineal land systems within their new land policies on economic development? Perpetua Serero’s protests have shown the world her plight has stood against patriarchal notions that land is purely a physical space albeit rich in mineral content and highly exploitative.