Gestures of Universal Expression
(by Arno Stern)
"These peoples, whom I visited prior to their cultural subjugation, had never drawn anything, not in the sand or on bark. The possibility of such a display was not part of their existence. Nonetheless, without hesitation, each of them showed from the first instant enthusiasm for and skillfulness with the instruments I had brought, as if this play was part of their everyday activities. They drew tirelessly, beginning early in the morning and stopping the play only to eat and sleep.
"Although unknown, Formulation was natural to them; young and old alike participated with enthusiasm and seriousness. Their entire bodies were concentrated on this act, one which is not intended to create an object, but which obeys only an organic necessity springing from a being's deepest part, resulting in these spontaneous and ephemeral Traces.
"The photographs on this page do not show these Traces, which covered thousands of small and large sheets during each of my stays. Rather, they are meant to attract attention to attitudes and gestures, to the commitment and concentration of these peoples, who never unlearnt the seriousness of an act, however small.
"It certainly is a strange sight: naked African children, Indians in rags, and nomads in turbans, all wielding Closlieu paintbrushes, which their hands know immediately how to hold and dip to perfection.
"It is strange indeed to watch them play with this instrument that they adopt without reticence.
"The images shown on this page belong to the past. If I had not made these last peoples untouched by artistic education paint and draw, it would be impossible today to prove that Formulation is a universal manifestation and that, once people take part in it, nothing differentiates children of the brush and the virgin forest from those who live in our society."
(top to bottom):
New Guinea (drawing)
New Guinea (palette-table)