Bilas: Body Adornment from Papua New Guinea showcased the beauty and diversity of cultural decoration and body adornment from Papua New Guinea. This special exhibition featured photographs by Wylda Bayrón and a selection of objects from the world-renowned Pacific cultural collections of the Australian Museum. Explore the transformation of the human body into a living art form through the practice of bilas and discover rich, cultural practices of the Papua New Guinea communities.

In Papua New Guinea the practice of body adornment is known as bilas, a word from the pidgin language Tok Pisin, and celebrates the intrinsic interconnection of peoples to place and to all things living. Over millennia, different forms of bilas have emerged, fulfilling varied everyday physical, social, and spiritual needs in unique ways. Made from an array of natural resources including shells, feathers and plant fibers, some adornments signify power or prestige, others are for cultural celebrations and ceremonial purposes.

This exhibition explored the roles and meanings of bilas in all its forms. Delve into the diversity of styles, techniques and materials, and the personal stories and practices including examples of bilas from throughout the 21 provinces of Papua New Guinea and rare and never-before-seen cultural objects. Over 30 newly acquired cultural objects were on display from Laipian Culture Group of Koki (Laiagam District, Enga Province), Yambu Rimbu Culture of Yalu (Kagua District, Southern Highlands Province) and the Maring Glong Culture of Meingik, Koinambe (Jimi District, Jiwaka Province). The exhibition featured over 60 breath-taking photographs by Wylda Bayrón from her solo-journeys in Papua New Guinea from 2013 to 2019.

Thanks to the generous support of our sponsor BSP Financial Group.

Exhibition highlights

Defarim, Headdress, feather, fibre, Telofomin, Papua New Guinea

Living Landscape

Papua New Guinea's astonishing natural environment has long provided abundant resources. It is the natural world that provides the spiritual knowledge and materials, and inspires the patterns and designs for adorning the body. Bilas is an amplification of the intimate relationship that the people of Papua New Guinea have with the natural environment. When adorned, bodies are transformed from ordinary to sublime, becoming embodiments of the living environment.

Armlet, shell, beads, Solomon Islands

Distinct and Diverse

Papua New Guinea is made up of many different cultures and communities with varying cultural practices around body adornment. The practice has emerged in many different forms with individual communities having their own approaches and expressions. The richness of tradition is ever-present within this diversity.


Wearing Wealth

Bilas is often worn as a sign of prestige and wealth or as a symbol of leadership. It enhances self-esteem and identity. These types of adornment are created for display in public ceremonies such as weddings or as exchange items between communities.

Lipmayaraquat (leg band), East Sepik, Masan

Continuing Culture

In contemporary forms of bilas, natural materials are interlaced with bits of coloured plastic, beads, bells, zippers and synthetic fibres. The charm of new materials offers opportunities for the expansion of self-expression as well as testifying to the resilience of traditional methods. In Papua New Guinea today, bilas is an evolving and adaptive practice that is constantly reformed and re-ignited from generation to generation.

This exhibition was generously supported by the Australian Museum Foundation.

Supporting Partner