Tommy Pau

Ilan Oman

25 May –
4 Aug 2024

Tommy Pau is of the Samsep tribe of Erub in the Torres Strait. A printmaker, painter, educator and home tailor with an interest in fashion and textiles, Tommy’s bloodline stems from cultural heritages that includes the Meriam of Erub, Australian Aboriginal, Papua New Guinean, Pacific Islander and Chinese. Torres Strait cultural practices and values were instilled in him from an early age through his father, Ettie Pau (OAM), as well as other members of his family and the Community.

Tommy has an unwavering commitment to keeping old traditions alive and believes Culture must remain true to the past, while also adapting to the current social climate in order for it to exist into the future. 

Ilan Oman explores themes of ilan pasin - island way - how life was and still is practised in the Torres Strait, particularly through the matriarchal line. On an island surrounded by water, law and order are essential for mutual relationships and co-existence. Women in Torres Strait society held a dominant space within society’s hierarchical structure. 

In our community, Tamwoy Town, our mothers had a very dominant role and position. They shared their day’s catch with everyone, and it was the kids that would distribute it to the families. 

Tommy Pau, 2023

Works in the exhibition highlight the female tradition of body adornment with Kowsadh sol, blooming flower textiles, that were fashioned into Au Gem Wali or big body clothes. This theme intertwines with domestic settings, oral narratives, historical events and practices that are traditional in nature but contemporary in their execution.

Ilan Oman comprises monochromatic and hand-coloured linocuts, exquisitely carved and referencing traditional myths and legends, as well as the artist’s personal anecdotes and experiences. Through these works Tommy retells and reframes Torres Strait Islander culture from the points of view of his grandmother, mother, aunties, sisters, and in-laws.  

  – Brian Robinson, Consultant Curator


This exhibition has been supported through a Cairns RSL Club Artist Fellowship Award


Selected works



Installation Images



Robert (Tommy) PAU
Born 1967
Blooming flowers (Red)  2023
vinylcut print on paper
148 x 76 cm
Printer: Theo Tremblay 
Courtesy of the artist

The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work and live. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.