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Pacific art

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Male and female ancestor figures

mid 20th century


Asmat people

Western New Guinea


According to Asmat legend, wooden statues were first carved by Fumeripitsj who, by beating a drum, gave them life, thereby creating the Asmat people. As the statues were animated, their elbows and knees separated and they began dancing. In ceremonies today, including the consecration of new men’s houses, or 'jeu', men dance with their elbows against their knees, re-enacting the Fumeripitsj story and the transformation from wood to flesh. The stance is also reminiscent of the praying mantis, a symbol of head-hunting among the Asmat.

Wooden figure sculptures such as this would often be named after ancestors. They are created by master woodcarvers, or 'wowipitsj', who are socially and politically influential.

[entry from Exhibition Guide for 'Melanesian art: redux', 2018, cat no 5]


Place where the work was made

Pomatsj River West Papua Indonesia

Cultural origin

Asmat people


mid 20th century

Media category


Materials used



131.0 x 41.0 x 39.0 cm


Purchased 1976


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Asmat people

Works in the collection


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 5 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales (Editor), Catalogue of acquisitions 1976, Sydney, 1976, 97 (illus.). 298

Ian North (Editor), Special exhibitions at the Art Gallery of South Australia: Seventh Adelaide Festival of Arts 1972, Adelaide, 1972. 'Arts of Oceania'; 203

NSW Department of Education and Training, Education gazette, Sydney, Dec 1966, front and back cover (illus.).

Helen Sweeney., Sunday telegraph, 'The week in art', Sydney, 01 May 1966, (illus.). Caption reads: 'Two figures from South West New Guinea at an exhibition of Melanesian art at the Art Gallery of NSW', in 'What's on in art' section.

Tony Tuckson, Melanesian art, Sydney, 1966. 195