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A Superb Old New Guinea Neckrest Abelam People East Sepik Province Papua New Guinea


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Collection No. T-5503
Size Length 36cm
Oceanic Arts Australia buys and sells tribal New Guinea art

A Superb Old New Guinea Neckrest from the Abelam People East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea

This superb old Neckrest is finely carved in the form of back-to-back male & female Ancestor Spirit Figures. The neck support becomes the body of a totemic wild Boar whose head you see at the top left, the Boars legs transform into the Ancestor figure’s arms that show not only the great imagination of the artist but also the connection between the Ancestor Figure & the wild boar a  fierce powerful totemic animal that is admired for its strength.   Abelam Neckrests are rare, I have only seen a few in my 40 years of collecting

This old Neckrest base is not flat at all as people slept on uneven sometimes dirt or sand floors covered by a woven mat. This Neckrest would not stand up without the stand, it’s a sign of its age and the whole piece has a dark brown patina from long use & handling. It was owned by more than one generation and kept as a family heirloom.

Some Neckrests, used by elders, served as marks of secular and religious authority, they are often adorned with images of spirits, ancestors, or other supernatural beings, and some also had magical properties.

Sepik spirituality was highly individualized, with each kinship group within a village taking an emblematic name, or totem, from the birds and animals of the Sepik River region, a totem serves as the group’s symbol and signifies their ancestral heritage — though they all recognized a common ancestry with the crocodile. Elders who have memorized the copious totemic emblems hold great prestige and power within the village. Representations of the animal totems such as the Boar on this headrest are important in honoring and nurturing relationships with the ancestors.

The headrest is imbued with an especially significant spirituality because of its association with the mystical aura of sleep. Sleep was recognized as the most intimate relationship with the spirit realm, therefore the decoration on headrests was especially intertwined with their spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, the human head is associated with concepts of power, therefore anything that was created to support this power was subsequently revered.

Headrests like this one are prominent across diverse cultures and eras. From the dark vaults of Ancient Egyptian tombs to the banks of the Sepik River, headrests were utilized to support sleepers lying on their sides and preserve intricate hairstyles during the night. Many people from ancient civilizations slept on mats, therefore headrests were emblematic status symbols and were generally reserved for prominent figures in such cultures. Though they might look uncomfortable in comparison with our Western accommodations, their structure actually supports proper spine alignment.

Provenance: The Todd Barlin Collection of New Guinea Oceanic Art

See my new EXHIBITIONS GALLERY  showing the Museums and Art Galleries Exhibitions that I provided artworks for over the past 40 years. There is the link to the article about my artworks published in the prestigious Louvre Magazine in 1996

I have artwork for Museums and art Galleries but also for collectors at every stage of their collecting. I want to encourage people to explore the fine art of New Guinea & West Papua and the Pacific Islands and to be able to see and touch the artworks in a relaxed and friendly manner in my Sydney Gallery. I would like to invite you to visit my gallery and see the artworks in person and also look at my website www.oceanicartsaustralia.com where there are many Galleries & Sub Galleries to explore.

My Gallery of nearly 40 years is the last physical gallery in Sydney that specializes in New Guinea and Oceanic Art.  Sydney is very close to New Guinea & the Pacific Islands where all of these amazing artworks came from, Australia’s closest neighbors.

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