Indonesia, Papua Province (Irian Jaya), Ambisu village, Ajip River
Fiber, sago palm leaves, wood, paint
H. 65 3/4 in. (167 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller and Mrs. Mary C. Rockefeller, 1965
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
The art and religion of the Asmat people of southwest New Guinea center primarily on the spirits of the recently dead. Nearly all Asmat subgroups celebrate, or celebrated, the mask feast, a series of rituals culminating when the dead, personified by performers wearing full-length body masks, return to visit the community. The rites involve two types of masks. The first, a single conical mask depicting a legendary orphan, appears as a comical prelude. The second type of mask, seen here, portrays the dead. Each mask of this type is named for a specific individual. At the climax of the ceremony, the masked performers representing the dead emerge from the forest and tour the village, where they are offered food and hospitality. They eventually arrive in front of the men’s ceremonial house, where the dead and the living join in a dance, which continues long into the night. The following morning the dead, now properly fed and entertained or frightened by threats of violence, depart for safan, the realm of the ancestors.
Michael C. Rockefeller Expedition, collected 1961; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1961–1965; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–1978
Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 3, 30-31.