Trobriand Islander

Unit Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit
Place Oceania: New Guinea, Papua New Guinea, Papua, Papuan Islands, Trobriand Islands
Accession Number ART96139
Collection type Art
Measurement Sheet: 31.2 x 21 cm
Object type Drawing
Physical description pencil on paper
Maker Curtis, R Emerson
Place made New Guinea: Papua New Guinea
Date made c.1943
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Item copyright: AWM Licensed copyright


Two profile portraits of a male Papuan Islander from Trobriand Island.
Born in 1898 in Croydon, England, Robert Emerson Curtis migrated to Australia with his family in 1914, settling in Stanthorpe, Queensland. Both his parents and two sisters painted and, for a time, Curtis studied art via correspondence. Having established a reputation as an illustrator, artist and journalist with particular interest in capturing the achievements of industry, in 1940 Curtis gained permission from the Department of Information to depict activities in Commonwealth munitions and aircraft factories. Curtis joined the Department of Home Security in 1941, where he worked as a camouflage officer and was accredited for service with the RAAF.
In 1942, Curtis was appointed Officer in Charge of Camouflage in New Guinea. As well as recording the activities of the Australian and American troops, Curtis took every opportunity to visit local villages, creating a series of portraits of Papuan Islanders. Several of these drawings were used to illustrate short articles Curtis contributed to the Australian magazine 'Walkabout', and provide insight into the experiences of the Papuans employed as manual labourers by Australian troops. Generally, the articles were observations on 'native' life, including marriage, wood carving, and body adornment, however Curtis also commented on distinguishing physiological features of individuals from different tribes. Curtis was appointed as an official war artist in March 1945, covering the civil and industrial war effort in Australia.