DER Documentary

Headhunt Revisited: With Brush, Canvas and Camera

Michele Westmorland
color, 76 min, 2017
in English



Headhunt Revisited: With Brush, Canvas, and Camera is a timely story of an exceptional woman, a talented artist, and a respectful ally of indigenous peoples whose work continues to inspire artists in her native America and in her beloved Melanesia.

In the 1920s, society woman Caroline Mytinger graced the cover of Ladies' Home Journal. A talented portrait painter, she eschewed a predictable path, charting a course instead for the "headhunters" of Melanesia and establishing herself as one of the most fascinating yet unknown talents in American history.

Headhunt Revisited retraces the journey of Caroline and her friend Margaret Warner, who crossed the Pacific on a quest to find and paint portraits of the indigenous people of Melanesia. From 1926–1930 they traveled throughout the region, carrying with them a growing collection of portraits, supplies for new works of art, and just enough money to ship their bodies home if needed.

As an artist, an explorer, and a woman, Caroline was ahead of her time. Existing on the margins of the local colonial establishment, Caroline worked against the then dominant views of Melanesian indigenous society as uncivilized and backward. She painted her subjects on their own terms, with pride and dignity, and her work is one of the first color interpretations of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islanders during the 20th century.

After four years, having braved numerous environmental threats including nearly losing the portraits during a volcanic eruption, Caroline returned with a wealth of documentation, including 25 oil paintings, more than 40 sketches, and journal entries that became the notes for two books on her travels. Upon returning to New York, the works were exhibited by Margaret Mead at the American Museum of Natural History, and continued on a national tour before being accessioned by Berkeley's Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

Eighty years later, Caroline's adventure inspired two contemporary artists. In 2005, photographer and film director Michele Westmorland set out to retrace Caroline's journey, and reconnect with the descendants of the individuals portrayed in Caroline's paintings.

During her Journey Michele also introduced Caroline's work to Jeffry Feeger, a renowned contemporary Papua New Guinean portrait artist. He embraced Caroline's work for its uniquely humanistic view and produced a series of his own paintings in dialogue with Caroline's artwork that capture "what it means to be a modern-day Papua New Guinean." His artwork and voice brings the legacy and story of Caroline Mytinger full circle.

Headhunt Revisited combines footage of Michele's visits with contemporary Melanesians, interviews with Jeffry and other contemporary artists, and archival footage to present a compelling story about art, identity and cultural memory.

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