Skip to content

Plumes and pearlshells
art of the New Guinea highlands

Left to right: Wiru people, Pangia, Ialibu-Pangia District, Southern Highlands Province Female figure mid 1900s, collected by Stan Moriarty in 1967. Melpa people, Mount Hagen, Western Highlands Province Moka kin (mounted pearlshell for moka exchange) mid 1900s, acquired by Stan Moriarty from John Edmunds in 1967. © Wiru people and Melpa people respectively, under the endorsement of Pacific Island Museums Association’s Code of Ethics

The peoples of the New Guinea highlands are renowned for their spectacular 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, barkcloth, 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