Ancestor Poles (Bis)
Asmat people, Omadesep village, Faretsj River, southwest New Guinea, Papua (Irian Jaya) province, Indonesia, mid-20th c Metropolitan Museum of Art
While attempting to find the Alexander Calder Jewelry show at the Met last weekend, I wandered into the new galleries for Oceanic Art and what a great surprise.
These memorial poles (mbis) are erected to honor the dead and the Asmat believe they house the recent dead's souls and display them in front of the men's house.
They used to go headhunting for an enemy head to place in the lower cavity, hence the bent pose of the figures being associated with the praying mantis (symbol of headhunting - ah, as the ladies love to bite the heads off of their mates!). (Stokstad - Art History 904). The figures are beautiful and fascinating. When I first became interested in art in highschool I randomly decided I was going to study Oceanic art (for no reason other than I liked the term Oceanic I think :) I definitely shifted gears into Modern and Contemporary didn't I?
If you are at the Met in the future I highly recommend checking out the new galleries, the space and art blend beautifully.