An Early Massim Figure from Milne Bay Province New Guinea
This fine Massim Ancestor Figure carving is from the Milne Bay Province in the Eastern end of Papua New Guinea. This artwork was made for sale or trade with Europeans and probably dates from WW2 or slightly earlier. The carving of a male ancestor is unusual in that shows the male genitals, the early Missionaries in Milne Province discouraged anatomical correct carvings and you see most of the artworks from the early 20th Century are all without genitals. It’s interesting if the carver of this figure was not particularly ” Christian minded “and didn’t care about offending anyone or just was being slightly provocative. The artist was a highly skilled carver who not only made a very beautifully proportioned figure he also decorated it with deeply incised spiral designs that the Massim artists are well known for.
Culturally the Milne Bay region is referred to as “the Massim,” a term originating from the name of Misima Island but is used to describe the artworks from the whole province made of 600 islands, about 160 of which are inhabited.
The regional trading systems of the islands around the eastern end of New Guinea are called Kula and are particularly elaborate trading systems where men had lifetime trading partners and social obligations and shell ornaments and cultural objects that constantly moved between communities.
The Massim artists are well known for their beautiful artworks such as Canoe Ornaments and their amazing Lime Spatulas used when chewing betel nut. The Massim is one of my favorite art styles as their art is non-aggressive and also reminds me of the art of Lake Sentani an area in West Papua where I spent a lot of time.
This artist has a distinct style & almost certainly made other artworks, it’s too bad that my old friend the late Dr. Harry Beran is not still alive to ask if he had any similar artworks in his archive. If anyone knows of a similar artwork I would be grateful to hear from you,
Provence: The Todd Barlin Collection of Oceanic Art