Viewport width =
April 3, 2006 | by  | in Visual Arts |
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

Art To Know For Dinner Party Conversations

Asmat Shield
20th century

Most of the art we have looked at so far has been largely concerned with aesthetics. The idea of ‘Contemporary Art’ (with capital letters) is a funny beast, and a distinctly Western paradigm. Looking at art from non-Western cultures offers an interesting foil to these kind of concerns, as it was often connected with a particular event or moment, rather than being an single, disconnected image.

The shields, created by the Asmat people of West Papua, are a case in point. Our idea of ‘art’, the decoration on the shields, is here inextricably tied up with warfare. These objects are decorated for the practicalities of fighting, particularly headhunting. Vengeance was important for the Asmat. The shields were named after the dead who were said to wander listlessly until they were avenged. One particularly popular motif for shields was the flying fox, because it bites fruit from trees, and was thus associated with headhunting.

Since the 1960s the Asmat have been extensively studied by ethnologists and carvings have been snapped up collectors and tourists. Shields, such as the one shown, no longer hold their original symbolic function in warfare, headhunting obviously having long been suppressed, but instead have been absorbed into the West’s insatiable appetite for ‘primitive’ art, and are now predominantly commodities.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

Comments are closed.

Recent posts

  1. There’s a New Editor
  2. An (im)possible dream: Living Wage for Vic Books
  3. Salient and VUW tussle over Official Information Act requests
  4. One Ocean
  5. Orphanage voluntourism a harmful exercise
  6. Interview with Grayson Gilmour
  7. Political Round Up
  8. A Town Like Alice — Nevil Shute
  9. Presidential Address
  10. Do You Ever Feel Like a Plastic Bag?

Editor's Pick

In Which a Boy Leaves

: - SPONSORED - I’ve always been a fairly lucky kid. I essentially lucked out at birth, being born white, male, heterosexual, to a well off family. My life was never going to be particularly hard. And so my tale begins, with another stroke of sheer luck. After my girlfriend sugge