Iatmul Spirit Board

Middle Sepik
Papua New Guinea

Spirit plaque for the ceiling of the Men’s House

Tambanum Village
Iatmul People
Middle Sepik

Carved wood and pigments
Early 20th century
Height: 24½ in. (62 cm)

Ex collection Karel Kupka (1918-1993)

Price: on request

Melanesia – Papua New Guinea
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Among the Iatmul people of the village of Tambanum, this type of circular plaque, called a “spirit painting,“ was fixed to the ceiling of the Men’s House, the side decorated with motifs facing downwards. Its iconography incorporates mythological symbols linked to protective spirits. This spirit painting was the guard of the House.
Such sculptures are particularly rare. We know of two other related examples: one is in the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland (“Ozeanische Kunst“, Christian Kaufmann, 1980, plate 78), while the second is at the De Young Museum in San Francisco (“New Guinea Art Masterpieces“, John Friede, 2005, plate 222).
Of note here are the wonderful way the motifs are laid out and the color composition, setting up a hypnotic movement that brings the sculpture to life.
This sculpture was in the personal collection of Karel Kupka, ethnologist, author and expert of reference on Australian aboriginal art from the 1950s to the1970s.