Inspired by a true-life adventure, Headhunt Revisited: With Brush, Canvas and Camera is a documentary film, a book and exhibition about Caroline Mytinger and the power of her art to build connections across oceans and decades.
The inspiration for Headhunt Revisited took shape in the 1920’s, when an intrepid American portrait artist, Caroline Mytinger, and her friend, Margaret Warner, traveled to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands on a hunt to capture portraits of the indigenous peoples. Their four-year expedition resulted in 25 stunning paintings that depicted and preserved the culture of Melanesia in a way recorded by no other.
Eighty years later, photographer Michele Westmorland led her own expedition to Melanesia, retracing Caroline’s journey to share this rare visual evidence of a culture’s history. Michele and her team encountered descendants of four islanders featured in Caroline’s paintings, showing them significant links to their forgotten past and fostering a resurgence of cultural pride.
Today, Papua New Guinean artist, Jeffry Feeger offers his own interpretation of Caroline’s work, revealing both the cultural continuities and the dramatic changes that have occurred over the past 100 years.
Headhunt Revisited connects these artists in a story that is personal and universal, illustrating with painting, photography and filmmaking, that all forms of art are instrumental in communicating stories of culture and tradition.
The mission of Headhunt Revisited is to inspire cultural expression through portraiture and foster cross-cultural understanding by encouraging the documentation of tradition and heritage in new generations of artists and non-artists. Caroline’s portraits challenge stereotypes about Melanesian people, convey traditions across generations and inspire future artists to document their culture. Headhunt Revisited aspires to continue this noble endeavor, defying “savage” misconceptions and generating a revitalization of cultural self-expression through photography, painting and film.
Caroline and Margaret’s journey was news in the early 1930s, but time has erased all awareness of their accomplishments. The Headhunt Revisited project will bring their story and Caroline’s artwork out from dusty bookshelves and warehouses and into the light of day for a new audience.
Outside of the South Pacific region, most people don’t know where Melanesia is. Headhunt Revisited will educate and inform the world about this incredible region, its people, cultural traditions, and environmental treasures. The symbiosis of local traditions with such a rich, but threatened ecosystem cannot be overstated. Traditional art in Melanesia, like carvings, biliums, and traditional dress, is all made of natural material. Contemporary art in Melanesia on paper and canvas is a young, vibrant and growing medium. Headhunt Revisited seeks to generate exposure and recognition for the rising artists, such as Jeffry Feeger, who are using their talents to document their culture and tell stories about the environmental and social issues now playing out in the region.
In the early 20th century, missionaries and plantation owners forbade the particular style of headdress seen in Caroline’s “Heera” for its cultural symbolism, and nearly all remaining examples were burned. Only a few rare pieces exist in private collections. Headhunt Revisited commissioned the re-creation of a large feather headdress by a master craftsman, Siaka Heni, from the village of Hanuabada, and then donated it to the Papua New Guinea National Museum in Port Moresby. Heni was invited to showcase his creation at a reception hosted by the U.S. ambassador at the end of the expedition. The project donated large color prints of many of Caroline’s paintings to the Solomon Islands National Museum, and to Dame Carol Kidu, Minister of Community Development for the PNG parliament. Due to their age and fragility, the original paintings must stay in the United States, but the prints can be displayed. These otherwise inaccessible images will pay homage to traditional heritage, and are rich in historical, ethnographic detail.