The Art of West Papua

The art of the western side of the island of New Guinea, now known as West Papua, has long been acknowledged for its brilliance of design and execution. Much threatened by more than one colonial occupation, we celebrate with this exhibition the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

 Alcheringa is honoured to present a superb collection of exquisite works gathered by Dr. John Moore over several years while he worked for the Eastern Indonesia University Development Project, run cooperatively between the universities of Simon Fraser in Canada and Cenderawasih (Bird of Paradise) in West Papua. Among the contemporary works featured in this exhibition are finely carved bowls, paddles and a remarkable selection of bark cloth paintings from Lake Sentani.



 WEST PAPUA: A BRIEF CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY

 Western (Indonesian) New Guinea has huge geographic diversity, ranging from lowland swampy rain forest, transected by meandering rivers, to a mountainous, cloud-shrouded central spine rising to over 5000m and harbouring the only remaining glaciers in equatorial Asia. The cultural diversity is just as great; of the ca 1,100 languages spoken in the island of New Guinea as a whole, at least 250 are indigenous to the region west of the Indonesia – Papua New Guinea border.

 In a rough way, the cultures of the island fall into two groups. Coastal and near-coastal peoples derive their livelihood from the sea and depend on flour from the sago palm for the starch in their diet. The highlanders' economy is dominated by pigs and sweet potatoes.

 The Art of West Papua collection represents, albeit unevenly, the ethnic groups of western New Guinea - all lowlanders' who are most recognized to date as having a substantial artistic tradition. They are, from east to west, the Sentani and nearby North Coast groups near Jayapura; the Asmat and Kamoro of the south coast between Agats and Timika; and the Biak-Yapen-Manokwari peoples, distributed around Cenderawasih Bay, that separates the 'Bird's Head' from the rest of New Guinea. Each of the three groups has distinct styles of design, developed independently and reflecting distinctions in their culture and worldview.

 John Moore
 March 4, 2008

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