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]
mid 20th century
131.0 x 41.0 x 39.0 cm
Shown in 3 exhibitions
Melanesian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 20 Apr 1966–22 May 1966
Art of Oceania: Seventh Adelaide Festival of Arts 1972, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 03 Mar 1972–25 Mar 1972
Melanesian art: redux, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 Nov 2018–17 Feb 2019
Referenced in 5 publications
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.
Catalogue of acquisitions 1976, Sydney, 1976, 97 (illus.). cat.no. 298
Special exhibitions at the Art Gallery of South Australia: Seventh Adelaide Festival of Arts 1972, Adelaide, 1972. 'Arts of Oceania'; cat.no. 203
Education gazette, Sydney, Dec 1966, front and back cover (illus.).
Melanesian art, Sydney, 1966. cat.no. 195