The Sepik is the longest river in Papua New Guinea. It is situated in the north of the island and covers a distance of 1,126 kilometers before it discharges into the Pacific Ocean. Large swampland, since the first millennium B.C. this area has sheltered peoples who live on the banks of or in areas close to the Sepik River and its tributaries. These societies have evolved in a world where every object lends itself to being sculpted, engraved or pictorially represented by animal and human figures or abstract motifs. Sculptures, hooks, necklaces made up of pearl oyster shells, slit drums, bamboo flutes, wickerwork headdresses, coconut bowls, panels of painted bark, modelled-over skulls, whether they belong to the everyday or appear during ceremonies, are adorned with images or signs linked to nature and ancestral figures either human or animal. The exhibition conjures up the setting of a traditional village with public spaces open to everyone and majestic homes built on alleyways accessible only to the initiated. In an immersive scenography, the exhibition leads to the discovery of major figures of ancestors and allows visitors to apprehend the multiple forms and variations under which the ancestors manifest themselves.
The exhibition presents the results of 35 years of research led by Philippe Peltier, Markus Schindlbeck and Christian Kaufmann. The pieces presented were chosen for their formal qualities and their ethnographic interests. Some of them are icons of the art of the Sepik. They all demonstrate the great diversity of forms developed and materials used by the inhabitants of the river banks. In the Sepik, the social organisation of the villages requires the women to live strictly separated from the men. In an area reserved for the men, ancestors are omnipresent and appear during ritual ceremonies only accessible to the initiated. In order to appreciate the density of this world shared between sky and water, the exhibition curator chose to enable visitors to discover the close relations maintained by the inhabitants of the valley with the world of spirits and of their ancestors.
In an immersive scenography guiding the visitor through a village, the exhibition SEPIK, Arts from Papua New Guinea lets us see and understand this unique social organisation. WALKING THROUGH A SEPIK VILLAGE The exhibition leads the visitor to discover the different areas of a village by taking him on a fictional wander whose aim is to explain the different levels of use of the objects which can vary according to the locations and groups to which they belong. This wander is based on one idea: to gradually reveal the increasingly refined meanings that men give to their creations. At the entrance to the exhibition, the visit starts on board two huge dugout canoes in the shape of crocodiles. Once disembarked on the banks of the great river, the visitor enters the heart of a village. Along the route, the works invite you to discover places of strict hierarchy: the women’s area, the men’s area, the initiates’ area. The route gradually reveals the major figure common to all the Sepik cultures: the founding ancestors. Creators of the world, they are omnipresent in ritual ceremonies during which they may appear in the form of a crocodile, as they may also appear in every act of daily life.
The exhibits is from October 27th 2015 – January 31st 2016.
Curator: Philippe Peltier, Head of the Oceania-Indonesia collections at the musée du quai Branly Associate
Curator: Markus Schindlbeck, Honorary Curator, former Head of the Oceania and Australia collections at the Ethnological museum in Berlin Scientific
Advisor: Christian Kaufmann, Honorary Curator, former Head of the Oceania Collection at the Museum der Kulturen in Basel