A fine Papua New Guinea Highlands Ancestor Figure
This rare and charming female Ancestor Figure is from the Papua New Guinea Highlands, most likely from the Eastern Highlands Province or the Western Highlands Provenance.
Carved from a piece of hardwood with the articulated arms carved from separate pieces of wood, the breasts are carved in high relief & under the skirt is female genitals. The figure is decorated with normal daily wear of women, she is wearing a fibre skirt with a Croix seed belt (jobs tears), she is wearing armbands & leg bands and her hair is covered with real hair which is then covered with a bilum type woven bag. All women in the highlands of New Guinea wear these bilum bags which the strap goes over their head to balance a load in the bag on their back. The bag is often filled with a baby being brought along to work in their gardens. She is wearing cowrie shell necklaces & red paint on her face for a ceremonial dance.
I found this figure in a collection of African Art which was said to be African but having seen these types of ancestor figures many times in the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales from the Stan Moriarty Collection so I knew what it was and ask to acquire it. The owner had it since the 1970s so it would date from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. The Art Gallery of New South Wales had a superb exhibition in 2014 ” Plumes & Pearlshells; Art of the New Guinea Highlands ” that showcased the Moriarty Collection of Highlands Art, this fine exhibition by the AGNSW curator Natalie Wilson was the best exhibition on New Guinea Art in Australia since ” Pieces from Paradise at the Australian Museum in 1988. Natalie Wilson is a bright light for New Guinea art in Australian Public Institutions.
Figurative Art in the Papua New Guinea Highlands is quite rare, they were not prolific carvers ceremonial art as with the Sepik River People or the people in the Papuan Gulf area on the South Coast of New Guinea.
In the 1980’s I went to Papua New Guinea 24 times & West Papua Indonesia 43 times. When travelling in the Western Highlands of PNG and the Southern Highlands of PNG and the Eastern Highlands of PNG in 1986 – 1987 I spent several months in each of the places travelling to remote villages and collecting traditional art & artefacts, I never saw any Figures for sale or in use except for the fibre ” Payback Dolls ” made in the Mendi Valley area. They were not in the use or made at that time. Interesting many of the people were still wearing traditional clothes, men with a ” lap lap ” or woven groin covering tucked into a bark belt & the back end were covered by leaves. Women wore fibre skirts of different types for a married or unmarried woman. Traditional clothing for day to day use virtually disappeared from use by the end of the 1980s except for in remote areas. I was so privileged to be able to travel and see these amazing cultures who were so kind and welcoming to me everywhere I went.
On a custom stands that allow the ancestor figure to freely stand on her own.
Provenance: The Todd Barlin Collection of Papua New Guinea Highlands Art
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