The staple food of the Asmat people of New Guinea is sago, a starchy substance extracted from the inner core of the sago palm. This serving platter was designed to be placed horizontally, and to hold roasted balls of sago in the depression in the back. When not in use, sago platters were stored vertically with the underside facing out. Following their function, the upper surfaces of platters are minimally decorated, while the undersides are often intricately carved. The handle of this example depicts a human head, probably representing an ancestor. The complex designs on the underside include minute images of "spirit hands."
This sago serving platter, which may be attributed to the artist Bewar, was a highlight of the MPA's landmark 1962 exhibition The Art of the Asmat, New Guinea: Collected by Michael C. Rockefeller. Intended to be displayed upright when not in use, as here, its exquisitely carved underside is remarkable for the delicacy, balance, and rhythm of its composition. Embodying the MPA's commitment to aesthetic excellence, it appeared widely in the extensive press coverage of the exhibition, along with the larger bis poles (now displayed in Gallery 354).