Shields have been used in times of battle as potent symbols of power to attackers. Eric Bridgeman, however, sees this icon of warfare as a protector of untold stories, undocumented histories and fading cultural practices. In 2017 Bridgeman returned to his homeland of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and developed a kuman (shield) painting project in Kudjip, Jiwaka Province, with his uncles and cousins from the Yuri Alaiku clan. Led by senior village leader Mori Kaupa, they spent more than a month sharing knowledge and discussing a possible future for the tumbuna (old) shield, a cultural product outlawed by missionaries and gradually made redundant with the introduction of modern weapons. Their primary focus became the tactical role of selective colours and bold designs that appear on the surface of the shields.
Bridgeman is based in Australia and PNG. The dominant focus of his work involves a discussion of social and cultural issues. Recent visits to PNG have allowed him to explore the realm of tribal warfare in the PNG Highlands, which he believes is mimicked in the drama, colour and trickery seen in PNG’s national sport, rugby league.