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Plumes and pearlshells
art of the New Guinea highlands

Tairora people, Kainantu or Obura District, Eastern Highlands Province Decorated male figure (detail) mid 1900s, collected by Stan Moriarty in 1966, wood, cassowary and parrot feathers, pigs’ tusks, marsupial fur, nassa shells, sedge grass, orchid stem, rattan, bamboo, natural and synthetic pigments (red, white and black), coix seeds (Coix lacryma-jobi), glass mirror shards, iron nails, cotton fabric, plastic, 164 × 56.5 × 27 cm. Purchased 1977

The peoples of the New Guinea highlands are renowned for their spectacular exchange ceremonies, which involve hundreds of dancers festooned with elaborate body adornments, including highly prized Bird of Paradise plumes and the revered kina, or pearlshell.

Appreciating the sophistication and sheer beauty of these objects, Sydney businessman Stanley Gordon Moriarty assembled one of the finest collections of highlands material culture during his travels there between 1961 and 1972. Among these were exquisitely constructed headdresses, arm- and leg-bands, ear- and nose-rings and necklaces, made of feathers, shell, bark cloth, animal and plant fibres and natural pigments.

This exhibition presents highlights from this extraordinary collection of body art, now held by the Art Gallery of NSW, as well as other superb pieces used in rituals, for war and in everyday life, including rare gourd masks, painted shields, carved spears and arrows, woven and carved figures, knotted and looped textiles, and elaborately constructed dance masks.

Exhibition sponsor
Gordon Darling Foundation

30 May – 10 Aug 2014

Free admission

Temporary exhibitions gallery