The islands of the Pacific Ocean encompass nearly 1,800 distinct cultures and hundreds of artistic traditions in an area that covers over one-third of the Earth's surface. The galleries for Oceanic art are divided geographically into sections: Polynesia and Micronesia (Gallery 353); Melanesia (subdivided into two areas: New Guinea and Island Melanesia) and Australia (this gallery); and Island Southeast Asia (Gallery 355).
This section of the Melanesia gallery presents works from the island of New Guinea in the southwest Pacific. With more than eight hundred distinct peoples, New Guinea is the most culturally and artistically diverse island in Oceania. The displays survey the island’s major regional artistic traditions, including the arts of the Sepik River, Asmat region, Papuan Gulf, Cenderawasih Bay, Highlands, Lake Sentani, Massim, and other areas. A portion of the installation is also devoted to the arts of Aboriginal Australia and the Torres Strait. Highlights include imposing Asmat ancestor poles (bis) and a soaring ceremonial house ceiling from the Kwoma people.
Works in the Island Melanesia section originate from the vast arc of islands and archipelagos situated east of New Guinea in the Southwest Pacific, including the large islands of New Britain and New Ireland and the archipelagos of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. Highlights include a towering slit gong (one of the largest freestanding musical instruments on earth) from Vanuatu, a gigantic figural headdress (hareiga) depicting a powerful female spirit from New Britain, and intricate funerary sculptures (malagan) from New Ireland.