Shield

Artist: Vasem

Date: mid-20th century

Geography: Indonesia, Monu village, Unir (Undir) River region (upper)

Culture: Asmat people

Medium: Wood, paint

Dimensions: H. 71 5/8 x D. 23 x W. 10 in. (181.9 x 58.4 x 25.4 cm)

Classification: Wood-Implements

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection; Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller and Mrs. Mary C. Rockefeller, 1965

Accession Number: 1978.412.929

Description

Among the Asmat people of southwest New Guinea, shields were once among the most powerful symbolic elements of a warrior's equipment. Although shields were fundamentally functional items, used for protection from enemy spears and arrows, the designs that adorned their surfaces had great significance.

The central image on this shield depicts the carver's deceased father. The C-shaped motifs that surround the figure likely represent the shell nose ornaments worn by Asmat warriors, a symbolic reference to the former practices of warfare and headhunting with which shields were closely associated.

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