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A Superb Large New Guinea Lake Sentani Bark Cloth Tapa Painting West Papua

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Collection No. TB-3982
Size Length 272cm x Height 56cm
Oceanic Arts Australia buys and sells tribal New Guinea art

This superb large Tapa Bark Cloth Painting is from the Lake Sentani area on the Northwest Coast of West Papua.

Made from a single long piece of tree bark taken from the paper mulberry tree that is then pounded flat through a traditional process that is used throughout the island of New Guinea, the rest of Melanesia & Polynesia.

The Tapa Cloths from Lake Sentani and Humboldt Bay in N.W. Irian Jaya is locally known as Maro Smo.

Early accounts of the local people making and wearing decorated Tapa Cloth are sketchy, but it seems that married women wore Tapa Skirts which were decorated with designs.  An early photograph by the ethnographer Paul Wirtz in 1926 shows a large painted Tapa Cloth displayed next to the grave of a young woman.

The Tapa designs that the outside world usually associates with Lake Sentani and Humboldt Bay, were collected in the 1920s and 1930s.

There is evidence to suggest that the manufacture of painted Tapa Cloths during this period, was stimulated by European interest in collecting them. In 1929 Jacques Viot, the French surrealist author and art dealer made a trip to the area and collected a number of Tapa cloth that were later exhibited in Paris. These works of art had a great impact on the Paris art scene at that time. Many early 20th Century artists such as Picasso and Joan Miro were influenced by these Tapa paintings.

Many of the design elements in these contemporary Tapa Cloths are very old traditional designs,. The design on this Tapa Cloth is one of the main Lake Sentani motifs called Fouw, a chiefly design made of interlocking spiral design which is said to represent eternity and is associated with the power of Chiefs. The Fouw design is commonly used on many types of carved objects from the Lake Sentani area, including canoes, paddles, bowls and other items. Other common motifs are animals, birds and fish that are plentiful in their natural environment. There are also depictions powerful mythological spirits that inhabit the bush and the ocean.

This is a very fine example Tapa Cloth painting, the artist went to a huge amount of effort to first strip a large tree & prepare the Tapa Bark Cloth before painting the designs.  The designs painted in white, black & red ochre are painted by a very confident artist.  This is the largest Tapa Cloth Painting I have ever seen after spending many months in villages all around Lake Sentani & Humboldt Bay.

This fine artwork deserves to be in a Museum

Provenance: The Todd Barlin Collection of New Guinea Oceanic Art