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Allan Mogerema: Peace for Papua New Guinea

Allan Mogerema is an artist, Yoga instructor, and a Human Rights Defender from Papua New Guinea. In October 2019, we had the remarkable pleasure of photographing him at our Sydney studio. After his photo shoot Allan was kind enough to discuss his purposes behind creating a modelling portfolio. Allan’s drive stems from a personal place of heartache. Allan aspires to reach a larger platform through modelling in order to share his story and the injustices Papua New Guinea has faced. Allan’s unconditional passion and steadfast intelligence was awe inspiring. We hope to aid him on his journey towards modelling and redress for his community.

Can you start by giving us a little introduction to yourself, what do we need to know?

My name is Allan Mogerema. However I prefer to go by my traditional name “Mooreaina” which literally means the green “Christmas Beetle.

I’m an artist, Yoga instructor, and a Human Rights Defender from Papua New Guinea. 

My customary and traditional lands are in Simbu Province. I grew up in the capital city of Port Moresby.

My interests in art, Yoga, and Human Rights were a result of my house and others in our community of Paga Hill being evicted and demolished.

We are still seeking justice and redress.

The Opposition Documentary – A film about the demolition of Allan’s community.

Through your styling, you expressed your culture. If you were talking to someone who knew nothing of your home, what would be the most important things for them to know, in your opinion?

The big island north of Australia is one Island of Papua. Visualize erasing the line drawn on the map by the Dutch/British – that there is no border between Papua New Guinea and West Papua. As Melanesian people we are one.

Our ancestors have lived here since time immemorial and our people do not deserve the genocide caused by Indonesia.

Our brothers and sisters in West Papua must be liberated. Papua Merdeka. Free West Papua.

Papua is rich in biodiversity, including over 780 different species of Birds of Paradise.

Some are very rare and found nowhere else in the world. The Bird of Paradise is represented on the Papua New Guinea national flag.

Papua New Guinea has over 830 distinct living languages with thousands of dialects.

We have an unbroken connection with our lands, mountains, rivers and seas.

We are diverse and sophisticated cultures like that of Aboriginal people across Australia.

Like us, Aboriginal people had hundreds of distinct languages and ongoing unbroken cultural connection to their lands before Captain Cook, genocide and colonization was imposed on them.

And lastly, I come from Simbu Province where the highest peak in the South Pacific, Mt. Wilhelm, is situated standing at 4,509 meters above sea level. It’s very unique living up in the mountains, we literally live in, and above, the clouds.

My ancestors are the “Keri” language speaking people, they specialized in “baking salt” (processing salt). They used traditional methods to produce the salt from salt springs on our traditional lands. The salt was used for trade with other tribes of the area for ‘di-gaima” (stone axes), pigs, shells, bird feathers, and garden crops.

In the central highlands of Papua New Guinea, salt was also an important item for bridal transactions. This was happening for thousands of years before first white man contact.

Allan Mogerema Behind The Scenes

You’re obviously a very fit and healthy person, and there are some impressive poses in your photo shoot. How long have you been practicing yoga?

I started practicing Yoga in 2012 when my community went through its first illegal eviction and demolition.

Finding Yoga was a blessing in disguise. I was offered a scholarship from a pharmaceutical company in Papua New Guinea that had initiated a Yoga program as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility.  The scholarship allowed me to travel to Kenya for 6 months to complete my Yoga Teacher Training.

When I returned back to Papua New Guinea I started teaching and spreading the practice of Yoga. After seven years it is now embraced by many people in my country, especially in Port Moresby.

What do you believe are the benefits of practicing yoga?

My Yoga practice has helped me with my trauma. Apart from the physical benefits it helps in reducing depression, stress, anxiety, and other mental or emotional issues. In my personal life I have had many traumatic experiences.

In 2012, I was beaten up by Police with sticks and iron rods, including being slashed with a machete on my right ankle for taking photos of my home when it was being illegally demolished.

As a result of my activism to save my home and the Paga Hill community contracts for the Yoga programs I was running in communities and prisons were cancelled.

My Television Show “Kirap Yoga” – Papua New Guinea’s first ever Yoga TV show – was suddenly cut in 2018.

Because I stood up for my community and our rights, my employments and work options were cut and I faced growing police intimidation and threats – basically my freedom and basic rights were being taken away from me. Yoga keeps me calm and at peace and it grounds me. It helps me not to worry too much about issues in my life and to remain focused, to see the positives in whatever negative adversities I experience and improve myself to be a better person.

You’ve had some experience in the modelling industry in Papua New Guinea, can you tell us about that?

I had no idea about modeling back home, but I like to dress decent and with style whenever I can.

One day I came across an advertisement online about the “Mr. Cosmopolitan: 2018 Competition” hosted by a prestigious club in Port Moresby, the Cosmopolitan Club.

I applied to enter the competition with the sole intention of winning the prize money of 10,000 kina ($AUD4,300) which would have been enough to rebuild a small Preschool in my community.

I auditioned and made it right through to the Grand Final.

Despite not winning it was a fantastic experience for me.

Was there something about this photo shoot that made you nervous?

I had mixed feelings, I was excited and nervous for the photo shoot, it was my first photo shoot with a highly professional creative team at The Photo Studio in Sydney.

I kept thinking, “Am I going to do a good job or not?” I was bit worried.

However, when I went into the photo shoot I instantly liked the vibe and felt comfortable. The creative team were really cool and invigorating, they quickly mixed and matched my wardrobe to help create my different styles and guide me through a phenomenal photo shoot, one I had never experienced before. 

What motivated you to create a modelling portfolio now?

I think the most important thing that motivated me to create a modeling portfolio is my “Home and my Community”.

I see an opportunity in this platform to advocate for my community’s Human Rights Violations to a broader audience here in Australia.

To educate us here about actions overseas that are affecting people’s livelihood.  

What do you hope to achieve through the photo shoot experience?

To have an entire photo shoot experience from styling, wardrobe, makeup, hair, and poses to better prepare me for future photo shoots.

How do you think the photo shoot itself has had an impact on you as an individual?

As an individual I think the photo shoot had an impact on me since it allowed me to be just who I am. To be able to express my culture, identity, opinions, and emotions, to be more confident and fearless.

What’s next for you, now that you have these photos?

Now that I have these incredible photos from The Photo Studio I will create a modelling portfolio and start applying to agencies here in Sydney for modeling, acting and extras jobs.

I know the competition here in Australia is pretty tough, but I don’t mind hard work and a challenge – if it wasn’t for such challenges in my life over the years I wouldn’t be where I am now.

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