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A Superb Old New Guinea Asmat Canoe Prow Ornament West Papua Irian Jaya Indonesia

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Collection No. TB-2385
Size Length 127cm and Height 40cm
New Guinea & Oceanic Art
New Guinea Oceanic Art
Abelam New Guinea Art
Australia Aboriginal Bark Painting

A Superb Old New Guinea Asmat Canoe Prow Ornament from the South Coast of West Papua (Irian Jaya) Indonesia 

This very fine Asmat Sculpture was once on the front of a large war canoe that held about 20 to 25  warriors standing up and paddling.  The canoe & canoe prow ornament were caved from a single large tree.  The Asmat relation to trees is part of their creation mythology where the creator Fumeripitsj carved the first Asmat people from a tree & brought them to life by playing his drum.

The main figure in this fine sculpture is a highly abstracted figure of a bird, likely a black Cockatoo which is an important Asmat symbol associated with ritual headhunting in their past.  The canoe prow can be viewed in either position either as a vertical or horizontal sculpture, my photos show both views.

Michael Clark Rockefeller who was collecting Asmat Art and was presumed dead there in November 1961 was when the world became aware of the Asmat People & their art. The artworks he collected are still beautifully displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

This amazing canoe ornament I field collected in the remote Northwest Asmat area in 1985.  I was told that it belonged to the grandfather of the owner going back probably to the 1940s or 1950s,  it was kept as a family heirloom.

This Canoe Prow along with other artworks was collected by Todd Barlin over a 2-year period from 1985-1986, most of these artworks are now in major museum collections around the world including The Musee du Quai Branly Museum in Paris. When you walk into the Oceanic Art Pavilion the first thing you see are monumental Ancestor Poles from the Asmat & Mimika along with a Soul Boat, Shields, and Dance Costumes from the Asmat & Mimika, all of those artworks were collected by me at the same time as this Canoe Prow.  Above are two photos from the groundbreaking exhibition “The Asmat & Mimika” at the National Museum of African & Oceanic Art in Paris now part of  The Musee du Quai Branly Museum.

Provenance: Collected by Todd Barlin and later sold to Peter Hallinan and it was part of his world-famous collection displayed in his home on the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia.  

The Todd Barlin Collection of New Guinea Oceanic Art 


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