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Southern Tributary of the Sepik River, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea Melanesia

Amulet 19th or early 20th century Materials & Technique: sculptures, low-fired clay
Primary Insc: Papua New Guinea
Dimensions: 14.0 h x 4.0 w x 9.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1971
Accession No: NGA 71.157

This distorted head with its circular eyes was probably once part of a large cooking hearth similar to those created by the Chambri Lakes people, or it may have come from some form of cult object. It seems that when the original item was damaged, or intentionally removed from a larger form, this fragment with its heavily abraded surface was carefully pierced for suspension and probably retained for magical purposes to ensure the aid of benevolent spirits.
The imagery has associations with the small faces and figures made by the potters of Yaul and Dimiri villages between the Yuat and Keram rivers, but also has affinities with art from the Korewori River in the west, as well towards the grasslands of the Porapora River in the east.
As May and Tuckson note, small clay maskettes were produced in this area as recently as the late nineteenth to early twentieth century and one function was to be tied to large wooden ancestor figures. [1]

[1] P May & M Tuckson, The traditional pottery of Papua New Guinea, Crawford House, Bathhurst,  2000 (1982). p 241.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2015

From: Crispin Howarth Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2015