Unidentified Iatmul maker
Middle Sepik River
Papua New Guinea
Wood and red, white, and black pigment
Overall: 66 1/2 in. (168.9 cm)
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Harry A. Franklin Family Collection
Place Made: Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, Oceania
Not on view
Across the Sepik region, one of the most significant aspects of masculine strength was the ability to protect the community from hostile groups who posed a continual threat. In many respects, Sepik shields symbolized this masculine force and power. Carved wooden shields were ubiquitous, but each sub region had its own characteristic style of shield, and each clan had its own clan emblems and symbols that would strengthen the shield and protect its user.
Like so much else in New Guinean decorative art, the designs also supported clan and tribal identity, buttressed the warriors’ own strength, and represented everything these men were fighting to protect.
In the Middle and Upper Sepik, shields conveyed an image of the clan spirits that protected the warrior, their eyes confronting the enemy or any perceived human threat. Each warrior would know the clan symbols of his opponents as well as his own. Seen from a distance, the dramatic colors of the designs emphasized the power that one’s enemies were conjuring up to protect them. When confronting an enemy’s shield in any sort of tribal fight, one confronted the face of the spirit that protected that enemy warrior. Imagine the power of six or ten of these stylized faces of clan spirits glaring at you as you encounter a group of opposing warriors.
From the 2019 exhibition Melanesian Art: The Sepik River and Abelam Hill Country, curated by Robert Welsch, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Franklin Pierce University
ANTH 57, Origins of Inequality, Alan Covey, Winter 2013
Changing Traditions in Pacific Art, Harrington Gallery Teaching Exhibition, Anthropology 38, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, September 7-November 10, 2002.
Melanesian Art: The Sepik River and Abelam Hill Country, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26-December 8, 2019.
The Primitive Arts of the Sepik River, New Guinea, The Lang Art Galleries, New Guinea, October 18-December 17, 1960, no. 4410.
The Lang Art Galleries, Scripps College, The Primitive Arts of the Sepik River, New Guinea, Claremont, CA: The Lang Art Galleries, Scripps College, 1960, no. 4410.
Acquired by Harry A. Franklin (1903-1983), Los Angeles, California, in the 1950s; bequeathed to the Harry A. Franklin Family Collection, Los Angeles, California, 1983; lent to present collection, 1990; given to present collection, 1997.
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