Exhibitions/ Art Object

Figure (Yipwon)

19th century
Papua New Guinea, Middle Sepik, Korewori River
Alamblak or Yimam people
Wood, paint
H. 96 3/4 x W. 5 x D. 9 in. (245.7 x 12.7 x 22.9 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1972
Accession Number:
Not on view
The distinctive, opposed hook figures of the Yimam people of Korewori River region in New Guinea depict yipwon, powerful spirits who were called into the images for consultation before a hunt or raid on an enemy village. If the spirit approved, it traveled ahead of the hunters or warriors and killed the souls of the game or enemies, allowing them to be easily slain. The figures depict both external and internal anatomical features. The yipwon are typically shown with a stylized human head, single leg, and elongated midsection with concentric hooks depicting the ribs surrounding a central element representing the heart. Goldwater's astute eye and willingness to look beyond the existing canon and embrace previously unknown or underappreciated art forms is exemplified by the acquisition of this opposed hook figure from the Korewori River region of New Guinea. With their radical reorganization of the human anatomy, the figures caused a sensation among artists and collectors when they first emerged from New Guinea in the 1950s, shortly before this work was acquired from the Julius Carlebach Gallery in New York in 1959. Goldwater's foresight is demonstrated by the fact that these figures, admired for their impressive scale and the graceful elegance of their silhouettes, today are considered among the most iconic forms of Oceanic sculpture.
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1959]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1972; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1972-1978

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 36–39.

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