We bring you an edition of Difference Makers, close to our heart today, celebrating Ruth Choulai.
Ruth Choulai, left, with Florence Jaukae.
TDi have been lucky enough to work with Ruth for the past 5 years. First in her role at Pacific Trade Invest, where she was working to reposition the Pacific Region’s creative industries, and more recently in her role as a cultural consultant and advisor.
Ruth has worked closely with us on several projects including the Laikim Sister program, as well as our ongoing work with bilum.
The Laikim Sister program connected women entrepreneurs of creative and cultural industries businesses across Australia and Papua New Guinea. Ruth played a crucial role in the design of the program and as a facilitator.
Even more significantly, Ruth has been central to the development of the bilum industry in Papua New Guinea, alongside Florence Jaukae and some other key players. Bilum is a traditional weaving practice that has been passed down through generations of women in Papua New Guinea.
Ruth has been working to grow bilum on an international platform for the last 10 years. TDi were initially invited in to work alongside Ruth, Florence and Among Equals to analyse and optimise the industry at multiple points 3 years ago. While this work began with Ruth 10 years ago, during our time we’ve seen some acceleration over the past few years. We have seen changes in the quality of supply, an improved understanding of IP and IP protection, the proliferation of sales both nationally and internationally, and as result, we’ve seen the perception of bilum grow to be seen as a proud cultural export. So much of this work has been driven, guided and supported by Ruth.
For us, Ruth embodies both passion and practicality. Her deep love of the industry has also led to deep understanding and insight about where the gaps and opportunities sit in the industry.
“During travels around the [Pacific], my eye kept wandering to the cultural elements and finding interesting components of the many many objects on offer. To marry business development (searching for markets and making that sale) and creative products was a dream job because I was contributing to livelihoods.
[My] hope [for the future is] to see the Creative and Cultural Industries stand on their own, in their own right. Not [just] be rolled out when there’s a product launch or meeting or gathering but a real appreciation for the art, the artwork and the intrinsic value that it adds to the national identity. It is the perfect vehicle for economic empowerment.”
So where did this love come from? Originally from Central Province in Papua New Guinea, Ruth comes from a creative family – her sister celebrated artist, Wendi Choulai – and has had a passion for the creative industries since she was a little girl. As she says,
“Growing up in a house filled with art and classical music was a huge development platform for me – in PNG our traditional rituals and bilas (adornment) was just an extension of the Western influences in my formative years so there was no distinction between cultural material and western artistic material.
I love the arts, as it is a continuum of art practices from the ancient world to modernity. Artists see things differently to the ‘normal human’ and it is just another perception of our world.”
Our most recent project working alongside Ruth, is a film which tells the story of Bilum and the creative and cultural industry. We are excited to release it in the coming months – stay tuned – but for us, it is the culmination of the development work we’ve done and witnessed for the bilum industry. It captures what Ruth knows deeply – that the creative and cultural industries can be a powerful vehicle for economic growth.