Original Research and Commentary on Oceanic Art
Students of the remarkable artwork created by many of the world’s small-scale communities have commonly tried to make sense of it in terms of symbolic or semiotic analyses. In New Guinea, one of the premier theaters of such production, for instance, anthropologists have suggested that face painting, ceremonial headdresses, the art and morphology of spirit houses, and the designs on shields connect symbolically to, or communicate covert “messages” about...read more.
Readers of the Provenance section may have noticed that many colonial residents in German New Guinea proudly displayed state decorations in their pictures. This section will explore this decoration craze and how ethnographic collection activity was complicit in this fad. To understand this craze, one has to turn to German history. This country saw unification late in 1871. However, most states that made up this union--kingdoms, duchies, and principalities--retained a limited degree of autonomy, including the ability...read more.
One of the broad appeals of tribal art is that it grants us a window into a time and place excitingly unlike our own. The tribal object serves as the material manifestation of an idea and way of life often unfathomably different from the one we live or ever conceive of living. It is that striking difference, that enormous gulf between mindsets, that, when beautifully rendered, makes a tribal artwork so compelling. This, in part, is what makes Abelam yam masks so intriguing...read more.
From 1959 till 1970 I collected some of the most important individual skull racks, agíbe, being preserved in the Kerewo ethnic district of the Papuan Gulf. It was after the murder of the Rev. James Chalmers and his companions at Dopima village on Goaribari Island in 1901 that the outside world took sudden notice of the headhunting practices of the Kerewo. Before setting fire to dúbu daímu longhouses, members of the punitive expedition counted...read more.
Unlike figurative arts from Melanesia and Polynesia, utilitarian artefacts have often languished in the shadows of research and been neglected by collectors. That has to be deplored because often such objects were intricately linked to the lives and beliefs of their owners and can document complex patterns of exchange and human interaction. Kava bowls from Western Polynesia are an excellent example...read more.
The Galerie Surréaliste opened in Paris in March 1926 with an exhibition titled Tableaux de Man Ray et Objets des Iles. Preceded by his Dadaist credentials, Man Ray had arrived from New York five years earlier and was quickly welcomed into the avant-garde community and the embryonic Surrealist movement. The choice to feature the American artist alongside objects from the South Seas in the inaugural exhibition of the Galerie Surréaliste was notable. While the previous generation of vanguard artists had embraced African art as a vehicle to reinvigorate their creative...read more.
While the topic of authenticity gets batted around in academic circles as an outdated and vague concept, within the harsh reality of the oceanic art marketplace, it is a clear-cut and essential factor. In my opinion, authenticity boils down to artistic intention. Whether an artist makes a piece to sell to a hapless tourist or undertakes to carve a figure that brings to life an ancestral spirit, these present two drastically different intentions...read more
For those well acquainted with the full power and range of New Guinea art, it might be hard to fathom the potential importance of a lime spatula. In a land where many cultures produce figurative sculptures of bold forms and expressive demeanors in often monumental scale, a lime spatula in comparison can appear rather insignificant—especially since in most New Guinea cultures lime spatulas are fairly straightforward utilitarian objects. But in the Collingwood Bay area...read more
The art of Papua New Guinea’s West Sepik Province is some of the least known but most compelling of the country. The region is primarily mountainous and largely inaccessible with the imposing Torricelli Range cutting through its center. Besides a small section of road on the north coast leading east from Vanimo there is a mere specter of a road from Nuku to Lumi that is often unusable for years at a time. The rest of the province is...read more
Christin Kocher Schmid
High up on the northern slopes of the Finisterre Range of the Huon Peninsula live the Yopno in the Yupna valley and their closely related neighbours of the Nankina valley. The area is steep and rugged, extending from about 600 metres above sea level up to well over 2,300 metres. Their artistic expressions focus on the careful composition of separate elements into striking ephemeral showpieces. Although painting on bark cloth does produce durable artwork, its manufacture follows the same...read more
To explain the significance of this ancestral, “Hohao” from the Elema area of the Papuan Gulf I must start with a seemingly unrelated story that took place fifteen years ago on the other side of Papua New Guinea in Popondetta in Oro Province. Before embarking on a field collecting trip down the coast, I stayed one night in a guesthouse near the beach...read more.
For anyone with more than a passing interest in New Guinea art, it does not take long to come across the name of Dr. George Kennedy. Normally it is in an exhibition catalog listing the provenance for some old and significant figurative sculpture from the Abelam or Karawari River areas. Kennedy was a prominent geophysicist from the University of California at Los Angeles who made a number of collecting trips to New Guinea...read more.