Shield, Upper Brazza River Area, Eastern Asmat Area
This superb old and used shield was field collected in 1985 as I visited the Upper Brazza and Kolof River Areas in the remote Eastern Asmat Area on the South Coast of West Papua (Irian Jaya) Indonesia. (seen in the field photo the day I acquired the shield) at that time of the collection, the people in this area were still nomadic roaming the forest and living in tree houses for protection. This old guy just appeared on the side of the river with his shield, we had no common language and I showed him some trade goods as money was unknown to them, he wanted my knife and we made a happy trade knife for shield. In the field photo the man seems quite happy. The villagers attire was that men were basically naked except for sometimes tying a leaf over their foreskin.
The bold design is deeply carved into the shield and highlighted with red, white and black ochre. The top of the shield represents a stylised ancestor face. There is a similar shield that was collected by the famous field collector and expert on Asmat Art (and also my friend) Tobias Schneebaum, and published in his book “Asmat Images “1985 Page 91 Fig G and now in the Asmat Museum in Agats Central Asmat & run by the Catholic Croiser Mission there.
Asmat Shields were important objects that venerated their ancestors, each shield had a personal name and when invoked during warfare the enemy was said to be frightened or stunned and easy to kill.
I spent a lot of time in the Asmat region in the early 1980’s and old and used Shields of this quality in the Coastal and Northwest Asmat Areas were rare. Many of the artworks I field collected then 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 at The Musee du Quai Branly the first thing you see are the monumental ancestor poles from the Asmat & Mimika along with Dance Costumes Shields and large Soul Canoe , all of these were field collected by me. Originally they were in an exhibition ” Asmat et Mimika at The National Museum of African and Oceanic Art in 1996 (now that museum is part of The Musee du Quai Branly). The exhibition the Asmat and Mimika in 1996 was published in the prestigious Louvre Museum Magazine see the link below and a photo of the exhibition above.
Provenance: Field Collected by Todd Barlin 1985. The Elizabeth Pryce Colletion Sydney , The Todd Barlin Private Collection
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