Navigating New Directions: Modern Masters of the Sepik River of Papua New Guinea

Introduction

The sculptures in this exhibition were collected in the fall of 2015. They were created by master carvers who live in small settlements along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea.

The region has remained essentially unspoiled, the river serving as a vital source of food, water, transportation and community identity. It can only be accessed by canoe and the small villages along the river are isolated and seldom visited. It is this isolation that has given rise to one of the most original and extensive artistic traditions in the Pacific. The art produced by each village has its own distinct style and some artists, particularly master carvers, have developed a identifiable ‘look’ of their own. This individualism can be easily detected in the works in this exhibition.

Embedded in the imagery of these works is a multiplicity of meanings drawn from the natural and spirit worlds. Tales of the ancestors, the origins of clans, and the realities of the cycles of life and death are rendered with a level of technical virtuosity that has brought this art form to the attention of an international audience. Here, Sepik art is positioned alongside the great carving traditions of the cultures of the Pacific Northwest and Aotearoa (New Zealand) - dynamic , changing and culturally embedded.

These works from the Sepik are extraordinarily accessible on many levels, yet elusive because each one is not so much a representation of anything – an origin myth - as it is about the relationship between things – ancestors and the spirit world. And sometimes, “it’s all from memory – it’s just a carving.”

This exhibition offers a unique opportunity to experience these exceptional sculptures which have taken their place on the world stage – far removed as it is from their homeland.

Carol E. Mayer PhD
Head Curatorial Department
MOA, University of British Columbia

Click here to read essay by Elaine Monds about this exhibition.

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