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Pacific art

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Spathe painting (Human figure with a bird's head and two other birds, lizard to one side)

collected 1965


Unknown Artist


Painting on sago palm leaf-base is carried out in a number of areas on the lower, middle and the first part of the upper Sepik as well as the Abelam group, where the facade of the ceremonial house is decorated.

Perhaps some of the most exciting individual paintings come from the Kambot people who live on the Keram River - a southern tributary. Their ceremonial houses had semi-secret rear compartments, lavishly decorated with bark paintings (Douglas Newton, 'New Guinea art in the collection of the Museum of Primitive Art' in "Museum of Primitive Art Handbook", no 2, New York 1967, cat no 45).

The bird is a common motif sometimes of totemic significance. Here a bird-headed figure is surmounted by two other birds. The technique is of interest; the background is black with the white painted on top. The scroll design to the right with its thin "wavy" quality is typical of the curvilinear decoration of the lower river and especially of coastal styles.

revised entry from AJ Tuckson, 'Some Sepik River art from the collection', AGNSW Quarterly, vol 13, no 3, 1972, pg 670.


Other Titles

Bark painting, human figure with a bird's head and two other birds; lizard to one side

Figure, bird headed and surmounted by birds

Cultural origin

Kambot people


collected 1965

Media category


Materials used

sago spathe (pangal), wood, natural earth pigments


162.0 x 67.0 cm :

0 - Whole; 162 cm

0 - Whole; 67 cm


Purchased 1965


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 2 publications


Tony Tuckson, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Some Sepik River art from the collection', pg. 666-679, Sydney, Apr 1972, 667, 670, 674 (illus.). plate no. 3

Tony Tuckson, Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 43. 24