A Superb Old New Guinea Pigment Dish Sepik River Area East Sepik Province Papua New Guinea
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A Superb Old New Guinea Pigment Dish Sepik River Area East Sepik Province Papua New Guinea and dates from the late 19th Century
This finely carved old pigment dish is from the Middle Sepik River area of Papua New Guinea. Small ornate bowls like this example were used for mixing ochre colors to paint important ceremonial objects. Ochre was mixed with a bit of coconut oil to act as a binder to get it to stick well to the painted surfaces of ceremonial artworks.
This fine example is carved in the form of a turtle or some other small totemic animal. The bowl is incorporated into the body of the turtle figure and the legs are carved outside the bowl. There is a carved turtle head at one end and its tail at the other. Pigment dishes were usually owned by old men who had kept and used them their whole lives. Sometimes they were family heirlooms used over several generations.
Ochre painted on ceremonial objects was said they give the object spiritual energy that brightened the object. Ceremonial artworks were usually repainted each time they were used for a ceremony.
In addition to creating larger works of sacred sculpture, the peoples of the Sepik region have highly developed traditions of decorative arts, as elsewhere in New Guinea, much of Sepik decorative art is devoted to the adornment of the human body. Sepik artists create diverse forms of jewelry, headdresses, and other personal ornaments.
Personal possessions such as this pigment dish or charms, and a variety of paraphernalia associated with the use of betel nut were often superbly crafted and adorned with both the ancestor figures and spirits and other supernatural beings as well as totemic species associated with the owner’s clan.
Provenance: Collected in the 1920s by Dr Edwin Archibald Holland who was in New Guinea working from 1927 to 1933.
The Todd Barlin Collection of New Guinea Art and Oceanic & Aboriginal Art
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