Oceanic Art
Fighting Shield, “Phantom”, Wahgi Valley, Western Highlands, PNG, mid-20th Century
wood, paint, cane
171.0 x 67.0 cm
SOLD

Tribal Urban
3rd biennial gathering of Oceanic objects + contemporary Australian art

From the vast oceans to our east and northeast come the deep time traditions of the Polynesian, Micronesian & Melanesian peoples. The practices of the Oceanic peoples are unlike those of any others on this earth. European artists from Gauguin to Picasso were enamoured with their visual culture and contemporary Australasian artists such as Samuel Tupou continue to be informed by this heritage.

Of great interest to my colleagues and me is the notion that Oceanic peoples traditionally did not view their religious & decorative objects as ‘art’ within the Western concept. Rather, they saw them as practical objects created for use in religious or social ceremonies and in every day life.

Tribal Urban is the gallery’s third offering of Oceanic art juxtaposed with contemporary Australian art. We are neighbours after all and my colleagues and I very much want to showcase the divisions & intersections of the two worlds when nestled side by side. Art traditions differ and the scale of time differs; yet the beauty of the practical alongside the ethereal is beguiling.

Michael Reid

Artwork Notes:
This shield, called “kumba reipi”,  was originally painted in earth ochres and was decorated with abstract traditional designs. The punctuated motifs still exist under the over-painted “Phantom”. Such shields with “new ideas” began to be produced in the early 1980s and the practice continued for the next 15 years. Some became quite elaborate with references to football teams and even beer drinking. The “Phantom” also became a popular emblem – copied from comics that were freely available from the small growing towns of the Highlands, Mt Hagen in particular.  The ‘Phantom” was seen as a hero-type who both protected the homeland, and (probably more importantly) was known as “The Man Who Never Dies” – and these words were often written on the shields. Such shields were used by the first generation of Highlanders to attend school and become literate; and Highlanders love to incorporate new ideas and new materials in their culture.
Oceanic Art
Tribal Urban: 3rd biennial gathering of Oceanic objects + contemporary Australian art
3rd July 2014 to 26th July 2014
Fighting Shield, “Phantom”, Wahgi Valley, Western Highlands, PNG, mid-20th Century
Oceanic Art
Fighting Shield, “Phantom”, Wahgi Valley, Western Highlands, PNG, mid-20th Century
wood, paint, cane
171.0 x 67.0 cm
SOLD

Tribal Urban
3rd biennial gathering of Oceanic objects + contemporary Australian art

From the vast oceans to our east and northeast come the deep time traditions of the Polynesian, Micronesian & Melanesian peoples. The practices of the Oceanic peoples are unlike those of any others on this earth. European artists from Gauguin to Picasso were enamoured with their visual culture and contemporary Australasian artists such as Samuel Tupou continue to be informed by this heritage.

Of great interest to my colleagues and me is the notion that Oceanic peoples traditionally did not view their religious & decorative objects as ‘art’ within the Western concept. Rather, they saw them as practical objects created for use in religious or social ceremonies and in every day life.

Tribal Urban is the gallery’s third offering of Oceanic art juxtaposed with contemporary Australian art. We are neighbours after all and my colleagues and I very much want to showcase the divisions & intersections of the two worlds when nestled side by side. Art traditions differ and the scale of time differs; yet the beauty of the practical alongside the ethereal is beguiling.

Michael Reid

Artwork Notes:
This shield, called “kumba reipi”,  was originally painted in earth ochres and was decorated with abstract traditional designs. The punctuated motifs still exist under the over-painted “Phantom”. Such shields with “new ideas” began to be produced in the early 1980s and the practice continued for the next 15 years. Some became quite elaborate with references to football teams and even beer drinking. The “Phantom” also became a popular emblem – copied from comics that were freely available from the small growing towns of the Highlands, Mt Hagen in particular.  The ‘Phantom” was seen as a hero-type who both protected the homeland, and (probably more importantly) was known as “The Man Who Never Dies” – and these words were often written on the shields. Such shields were used by the first generation of Highlanders to attend school and become literate; and Highlanders love to incorporate new ideas and new materials in their culture.
Fighting Shield, Wahgi Valley, Western Highlands, PNG, mid-20th Century
Oceanic Art
Fighting Shield, Wahgi Valley, Western Highlands, PNG, mid-20th Century
wood, ochre, enamel paint, cane
175.0 x 67.0 cm
$4,000

The Wahgi Valley tribes create possibly the largest shields in the world, taller than a man, and wide enough to protect several warriors in warfare. This shield, known as “kumba reipi” in Melpa language, has typical abstract designs incorporating the circle and triangle motifs, but there is an underlying anthropomorphic meaning.  The semi-circles are painted a brilliant blue, using enamel paint, but the rest of the shield employs traditional colours and materials.  The colours on this shield are essentially earth ochres; only the centre has been re-painted blue.  The shield dates to the period after Independence (1975), when warfare began to re-assert itself.

Provenance: Collected c. 1990 in the Wahgi Valley.
Shield, Wasar River, Western Asmat, West Papua, Indonesia, mid-20th Century
Oceanic Art
Shield, Wasar River, Western Asmat, West Papua, Indonesia, mid-20th Century
wood, paint
189.0 x 64.0 cm
SOLD

This is a fine old Asmat shield covered in detailed motifs, mainly depicting the shell nose ornament, bi pane. The motif at the head of the shield is a stylized rayfish head. All are important headhunting symbols. Asmat shields are used in warfare, but are equally important in dance and ceremony. The shield is believed to have protective powers in warfare, but also within the village environs to protect from evil spirits and sorcery spells.

Provenance: This shield was collected at Pupis village in 1986.

Reference:“ New Guinea Shields”, New York exhibition catalogue, Chis Boylan, 2012 
Giant Nassa shell ring,“Loloi”, Tolai people, East New Britain, PNG, mid-20th Century
Oceanic Art
Giant Nassa shell ring,“Loloi”, Tolai people, East New Britain, PNG, mid-20th Century
Nassa shell, cane fibre
73.0 x 73.0 x 10.0 cm
SOLD

Nassa shells continue to be used today as part of the traditional currency of the Tolai people. They are important for Bride Price Payment, that is, when the dowry is paid for a new wife.  They are rarely sold or traded and few are found outside Papua New Guinea or their traditional use within Tolai society. They are of great value and highly prized.

When a man accumulates many shells, he threads them on lengths of cane to keep them together and organized. These shells can then be used in daily transactions, for example, to buy a pig or a canoe etc.  When the man becomes quite wealthy, the threaded shells are wound together into circles like this one and called Loloi  Usually they are bound with pandanus or banana leaves to preserve their whiteness, and then stored away. It is in effect, a shell bank.

At important community events the Loloi are brought out for display and are presented to the wife’s family as the most important part of a Bride Price. They are also presented at compensation and funeral gatherings where they are used to pay debts to those who have assisted the deceased through life.

At these ceremonies the shell lengths are unwound from the circular Loloi, and cut into sections, to be presented to the various participants. Then the process of acquiring enough shells to make another Giant Shell Ring starts all over again.
Clamshell wealth ring, (YUA), Arapesh people, Yangoru, PNG, 19th - early 20th Century
Oceanic Art
Clamshell wealth ring, (YUA), Arapesh people, Yangoru, PNG, 19th - early 20th Century
clamshell
28.0 x 28.0 cm
SOLD

YUA, made from the giant clamshell Tridacna, are the most important wealth items among the people of the Prince Alexander Mountains in the East Sepik region.  They were cut from a large clamshell using bamboo instruments, then carefully grinded with sand to create a smooth flat finish. This was a long and arduous task. 

The YUA were often buried, to protect them from being plundered during tribal wars.  Indeed, it is evident on this particular stone YUA that certain pigmentation has been absorbed as a result of being buried for long periods of time. This being the case, it is an ancient YUA, many generations old.

In addition, this YUA is a “head ring”, meaning it was the principle ring when lined up in a bride price transaction. These wealth exchanges, during marriage, compensation and funeral ceremonies, always comprise many rings of varying sizes.
Large male figure (from Spirit House post), Malu Village, Manambo people, Upper Sepik river, PNG, Early 20th Century
Oceanic Art
Large male figure (from Spirit House post), Malu Village, Manambo people, Upper Sepik river, PNG, Early 20th Century
wood
163.0 x 34.0 x 18.0 cm
SOLD

Figures of this type are extremely rare. The back shows where the figure was once attached to an enormous king post from the Malu "Haus Tambaran”. This particular building, more than likely constructed in the 1930s, fell into disrepair during the 1950s. The back of the figure shows where it was once attached to the post at the feet, back and head; the neck and legs standing proud of the post.

The figure represents a male ancestor figure. The deeply incised zig-zag designs are typical of Manambu figurative carvings, and denote body scarification.

The timber is called kwila, the hardest wood found in the Sepik River area, and generally used on such important Spirit House posts.
Malangan Figure, New Ireland, PNG, mid-20th Century
Oceanic Art
Malangan Figure, New Ireland, PNG, mid-20th Century
wood, ochre, paint
79.0 x 60.0 x 12.0 cm
$3,500

This figure from New Ireland was once part of a reliquary scene. It was quite possibly the central figure, with arms outstretched and smaller figures either side.

These Malangan figures represent ancestor spirits. The major figurative works in New Ireland relate to funeral ceremonies, and traditionally were set up – like an altar – to celebrate the life of an important person. They were then left to slowly deteriorate and rot in the tropical weather.

Provenance: Peter Hallinan collection, collected in New Ireland in the early 1970s.
Spirit Figure,, mid-20th Century
Oceanic Art
Spirit Figure,, mid-20th Century
natural fibres, Tapa bark, woven armbands, shell, feathers
223.0 x 42.0 cm
$6,500

This impressive fibre figure represents a type of earth spirit referred to as Bolimboku.  This is a specific male spirit figure called Obukinjo.  These figures were made for ceremonial use towards the end of the Moka Kina wealth ritual, when there are large gatherings of people and a pig killing ceremony. They are generally used only this one time. The figure was carried on the back of the central dancer who was accompanied by others, sometimes wearing gourd masks. In the ceremony, the dancers would break through a fence onto the dance ground into the middle of hundreds of spectators.  The figure was decorated like a man for ceremony, with headdress, bark belt, woven armbands, apron, shell valuables etc.  At the end of the ceremony the feathers and valuables were removed and the figures generally discarded. New Guinea Highlands Art in general is ephemeral – made for the time of the ceremony then destroyed.

In 1969 Stan Moriarty photographed and collected a similar figure that is now in the collection of the Art Gallery of NSW and currently on view in “Plumes and Pearlshells”( Art Gallery of NSW, until 10th August 2014.)
Polynesian fishing tackle box (Tuluma), Tokelau, South Pacific Ocean, 19th Century
Oceanic Art
Polynesian fishing tackle box (Tuluma), Tokelau, South Pacific Ocean, 19th Century
wood, mother of pearl inlay
25.0 x 47.0 x 31.0 cm
SOLD

Wood on the isolated coral islands of the Tokelau group is rare and precious. Storage containers, called tuluma, were carved to contain fishing tackle – hooks, ropes etc. The box has a tight fitting lid, and when at sea in a canoe, the lid was tied on with sennit rope to ensure that if the canoe capsized, none of the fishing tackle was lost. The box would float until retrieved. These boxes were also fine storage containers in the house and the best were decorated with geometric pearlshell inlay.  This is a particularly large and fine example.
Tokelau consists of three small islands of 8 square kilometres and has a total population of 1,700 people.

Provenance: This box was collected from a country manor in Leatherhead, England, where it has been used since the 19th Century as a coalscuttle beside the living room fire. Note the abrasions inside the box, where the coal has been raked out.
Polynesian dance paddle, Austral Islands, South Pacific Ocean, early-mid 19th Century
Oceanic Art
Polynesian dance paddle, Austral Islands, South Pacific Ocean, early-mid 19th Century
wood
112.0 x 20.0 cm
SOLD

These paddles from the Austral islands are among the most intricate and beautifully carved objects in the Pacific, entirely covered in delicate incised geometric patterns. The finial has tiny figures with large abstract heads.  Their function is not clear but they would appear to have been used ceremonially, rather than at sea. With the arrival of European explorers and whalers in the 19th Century, these dance paddles were greatly admired and were traded for European goods. Many of them made their way back to Europe.

The Austral islands are in central Polynesia, just south of Tahiti, with the main islands being Rimatara, Rurutu, Tubuai and Ra’ivavae.  
Polynesian axe, Mangaia Island, Cook Islands, South Pacific, 19th Century
Oceanic Art
Polynesian axe, Mangaia Island, Cook Islands, South Pacific, 19th Century
wood, stone, sennit
65.0 x 0.0 cm
$3,500

These axes are thought to be ceremonial, not practical tools of work. They have intricately carved handles in fine geometric designs. The stone axehead has a fluid, sculptural form, that is bound to the shaft with fine sennit (coconut ) fibre.  These axes are said to symbolize one of the aspects of the god Tane as a patron of woodworking and carpenters. Polynesian religion and mythology placed great emphasis on nature; Tane is the Polynesian god of light, and the forests and trees.

This is one of the earlier Mangaia axes. Later in the 19th Century they became elaborated into pedestal-type handles with openwork carving and were probably made for trade to Europeans.

Mangaia is in the southern part of the Cook Island group, just to the east of Tahiti.
Fighting axe, Malaita, Solomon Islands, 19th Century
Oceanic Art
Fighting axe, Malaita, Solomon Islands, 19th Century
wood, mother of pearl inlay, 19th C. British trade axe head
97.0 x 0.0 cm
SOLD

Metal axe heads were introduced to the Solomon Islands by the British in the mid-19th Century. While generally used as work utensils, some like this piece had a ritual handle made for them, and they were used both in warfare and in ceremony. This axe has particularly fine pearlshell inlay.
Baba helmut mask, Abelam people, Prince Alexander Mountains, PNG, mid-20th Century
Oceanic Art
Baba helmut mask, Abelam people, Prince Alexander Mountains, PNG, mid-20th Century
cane, ochre, paint
47.0 x 30.0 x 34.0 cm
SOLD

The baba mask is worn in ceremony by a man, with his body totally covered by a flowing fibrous grass skirt made from sago leaves. The mask is made of tightly woven cane and generally represents a bird – in this case a cockatoo – and the faces are brightly painted. In ceremony, the dancer wearing this mask carries a stick or short spear; he represents a spirit, and generally appears before the beginning of important rituals. His purpose is to clear the area of any evil spirits and also to keep women and children at bay. In earlier times, these confrontations between the Baba and the spectators could be quite violent, resulting in bad injuries or even death. The spirits were considered all powerful, and to be obeyed, but also it was a control mechanism by the Big Men over the population.
Baba helmut mask, Abelam people, Prince Alexander Mountains, PNG, mid-20th Century
Oceanic Art
Baba helmut mask, Abelam people, Prince Alexander Mountains, PNG, mid-20th Century
cane, ochre, paint
59.0 x 27.0 x 35.0 cm
SOLD

The baba mask is worn in ceremony by a man, with his body totally covered by a flowing fibrous grass skirt made from sago leaves. The mask is made of tightly woven cane and generally represents a bird – in this case a cockatoo – and the faces are brightly painted. In ceremony, the dancer wearing this mask carries a stick or short spear; he represents a spirit, and generally appears before the beginning of important rituals. His purpose is to clear the area of any evil spirits and also to keep women and children at bay. In earlier times, these confrontations between the Baba and the spectators could be quite violent, resulting in bad injuries or even death. The spirits were considered all powerful, and to be obeyed, but also it was a control mechanism by the Big Men over the population.
Gourd mask, Kamano people, Eastern Highlands, PNG, mid-20th Century
Oceanic Art
Gourd mask, Kamano people, Eastern Highlands, PNG, mid-20th Century
gourd, paint, resin, pig teeth
29.0 x 0.0 cm
SOLD

The gourd masks are used in ceremonial gatherings and represent spirits of the bush or mountains. Some are said to represent the spirit that causes leprosy.  These masks can have serious ritual meanings but equally they may be used in comical plays to relay stories to the spectators.

Formally these gourd masks were found throughout the Highlands. Many were collected in the 1950s and 1960s and several are currently on display at the AGNSW exhibition “Plumes and Pearlshells”. Today they are generally only found in the more remote regions of the Eastern Highlands.

Plumes and Pearlshells: Art of the New Guinea Highlands is on display until 10 August 2014 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney. The exhibition showcases a collection of body adornments amassed by Sydney businessman Stanley Gordon Moriarty over 1961–72, which is now held by AGNSW.
Wealth pectoral (Somp), Mendi Valley, Southern Highliands, PNG, early 20th Century
Oceanic Art
Wealth pectoral (Somp), Mendi Valley, Southern Highliands, PNG, early 20th Century
wood, mother of pearl, cane, red ochre
28.0 x 0.0 cm
$3,800

The somp is a magic and ritual item of immense value. It is owned by a clan, rather than an individual, and has the immensely important function of “attracting wealth to the clan”.  Kina shells, cresent-shaped pearlshell necklaces, are important objects of wealth, as well as pectoral decoration, among these people; but the somp has the magic to attract new wealth.
Figure, Abelam people, Prince Alexander Mountains, PNG, mid-20th Century
Oceanic Art
Figure, Abelam people, Prince Alexander Mountains, PNG, mid-20th Century
wood, ochre, paint
119.0 x 25.0 x 17.0 cm
$2,200

Wood figures in the Abelam were carved almost exclusively for use inside the Spirit House (Haus Tambaran) during initiation ceremonies. They were of varying sizes ranging from quite small up to three metres tall. This is a medium-sized figure. The carving is simple and striking. These figures represent spirit beings called Nngwalndu. They are always painted in quite bright earth ochres, employing a lot of yellow, combined with red, white and black.  This figure has lost much of its ochre over time, but traces remain.
Spirit figure (Timbuwarra), Wiru people, Southern Highlands, PNG, 20th Century
Oceanic Art
Spirit figure (Timbuwarra), Wiru people, Southern Highlands, PNG, 20th Century
cane, ochre, paint
183.0 x 48.0 cm
SOLD

Timbu means “Sky” in the Wiru language and connects these woven figures to the very powerful Sky Spirits. These spirits, in fact, have little to do with the affairs of men; however they have great power and signs of their power include widespread frosts that destroy all garden produce and create famine; earthquakes; volcanic eruptions, etc.  There were traditionally cyclical rituals that paid homage to, or placated these spirits, held perhaps every 8-10 years. These rituals involved the ceremonial arrival in the village of these timbuwarra figures followed by pig sacrifice and feasting.  Apparently also at times of calamity, when nature was considered out of balance, these figures were made and used in the ritual.  Afterwards, at a time decided by the Big Men, when it was considered that the natural balance had been restored, these timbuwarra figures were ritually buried in a hole.  This was said to preserve their power and in effect, also returned this power to the Earth.
Female Figure, Mekeo People, Papuan Coast, PNG, Early 20th Century
Oceanic Art
Female Figure, Mekeo People, Papuan Coast, PNG, Early 20th Century
wood, shell, fibre, paint
63.0 x 0.0 cm
$7,500

This early colonial figure was brought to Australia pre-Second World War. The detail is exquisite, with the fine traditional body decorations and tattoos, shell jewellery, grass skirt, hair, etc.  It is an exceptional and rare piece of early colonial art from the Mekeo people, just to the west of Port Moresby.

Provenance: Caspian Gallery, Sydney
Wicker Shield, Solomon Islands, 19th - early 20th Century
Oceanic Art
Wicker Shield, Solomon Islands, 19th - early 20th Century
cane, bark
91.0 x 26.0 cm
SOLD

This finely woven wicker shield is most probably from Roviana, New Georgia Island. Similar examples are in the South Australian Museum, Adelaide. (Ref: Craig, B. & Beran, H., “Shields of Melanesia”, Crawford House publishing, Australia, 2005, pp 243 )

There are three distinct types of wicker shields and this particular example, with rounded base and pointed top, is the most rare. Deborah Waite (1983:132) lists only four known examples in Museum collections. These shields often have an abstracted figure in black wicker. In “Shields of Melanesia”, Barry Craig writes:
“The black design plaited into the shield is too abstract to permit speculative interpretation but anthropomorphic interpretation cannot be excluded.”
The back of the shield has a finely woven fibre handle, packed with pandanus leaves; possibly to protect the hand in battle and also protect the handle in storage when not in use.