Papua New Guinea: forty years of independence

September 16, 2015 marked the fortieth year of Papua New Guinean independence from Australian colonial rule. Learn more about PNG's emergence into nationhood.

Ellis Silas in Papua New Guinea: an artist’s view

Ellis Luciano Silas (1885-1972) is an Australian World War One artist. 

He was one of only three artists to record Australian participation at Gallipoli from first-hand experience and the only one of these to paint battle scenes. He returned to Australia in 1921 and lived in Sydney, working as a commercial artist and contributing articles and cartoons to the Bulletin.

In 1922 he travelled to the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea where he lived and painted for 2 years. This resulted in four diaries with notes and sketches of his time there.

The photograph below was removed from inside the front cover of Ellis Silas' second volume of Impressions of an artist in Papua, showing Silas in his tent studio with a Papuan model. Inscribed at bottom "Bostock - Enl".

Silas was on the islands until early 1924 observing people, places and relationships. Some of his observations touched a nerve when his writing became public.  In a letter, dated 29 Feb. 1929,  Silas writes,

 "... I did not anticipate that these books would become national property consequently in such cases where I have adversely criticised the white inhabitants of Papua, to those of you who may peruse these pages, I pray of you, use a kindly discretion ..."

Book III contains pen and ink drawings and sketches, including a preface written in Port Moresby, 1923, index of subjects and lists of Papuan names and terms.