Born in Lae to a Papua New Guinean (Milne Bay) mother and an Australian father, Ella Benore Rowe is an artist and educator with a vision – being realised through her innovative Afrobetty Mask Making Workshops, the first of which she taught in Melbourne this week.
Ella says that through her earlier career experiences in hair and make-up – from salon to theatre – she discovered a way to teach through motivating and encouraging apprentices and students that she trained in hairdressing.
“My father was a teacher and instilled in me the belief in ‘self’ and the power of motivation. My mother taught me to be present and to care in a dignified way”, she says. “I learnt that education and unconditional positive regard is a winning recipe to empower others to have hope. With self belief, one can impact positive change.”
Whilst attending the CPAF Symposium in April, Ella witnessed a respected Pacific elder - Grace Vanilau - discuss the concept of ‘va’ - the space in which we reside, the energy within that space that is created when we connect and interact with others. The concept resonated profoundly. “I have always felt that I had the ability to actualise these spaces that are free of judgement. Once this ‘va’ is created the magic begins.”
It is this gift that Ella will bring to her unique mask making workshops – having always felt powerfully about working with intimate groups of people to initiate creativity. Through ‘Afrobetty Mask Making’, Ella hopes to create a safe space for bonding, a zone for healing.
The sessions are to be the embodiment of Ella’s faith in the power of art therapy – and the significance of healing through creativity and identity exploration.
Here is the workshop, in Ella’s words:
“My workshop opens with a visual exhibition of faces from Indigenous communities around the world. These painted faces help to recognize the beauty and wonder that lies in each culture and tradition that is represented. I use faces from different regions of Papua New Guinea to also showcase my heritage and pride for my diverse birth nation.
Through the encouragement and use of different mediums, the participants learn basic knowledge of Indigenous face painting and mask meanings. Simple explanation of symbols, choices of colour, reasons for adornment, purpose and sacred ritual are given to inspire members of the group to create their own meanings through their masks.
‘Who are you?” is asked again after participants have completed and finalized their masks. The answer should be easier to find by the end of the workshop.
I look forward to making masks with you.”
For more information, contact Ella Benore Rowe (Afrobetty) at firstname.lastname@example.org
WORDS by Pauline Vetuna.
'Afrobetty Mask' by Mary Quinsacara from CoHealth.
'Afrobetty Love', portrait of Ella Benore Rowe by Timothy Treasure.
'Masks' by Ella Benore Rowe.