Gope

oceania | Papua New Guinea

Gope

Papua New Guinea

Gope spirit board
Papuan Gulf

Carved wood, pigments
Early 20th century
Height: 50 ¼ in. (127 cm)

Ex collection Paul Wirz (1892-1955), Basel, acquired in the early 1930s
Photographed in situ circa 1930, published in 1934 and 1953
Ex collection Kevin Conru, Brussels
Ex Sotheby’s Paris, December 2019 lot 16
Ex private collection, Spain

Published:
Dresden Museum, « Beiträge zur Ethnographie des Papua-Golfes, Britisch-Neuguinea », in Abhandlungen und Berichte der Museen für Tierkunde und Völkerkunde zu Dresden Band XIX, Paul Wirz, 1934, plate XIX fig. 1 (photograph in situ)
Weltvagant im Urwald und auf der Savanne, Paul Wirz, Universum Verlag Zurich, 1953, cover & page 80

Gope spirit board Paul Wirz 127 cm / Galerie Flak Price on request
On view at La Biennale
Grand Palais Ephémère, Paris
26 Nov. - 5 Dec. 2021

As described in the reference book on the arts and cultures of the Gulf of Papua, Coaxing the Spirits to Dance (Hood Museum & the Metropolitan Museum of Art), wood sculpture in the region was primarily two-dimensional, consisting of board-like carvings, known as spirit boards (gope or kopé) and bioma figures with designs in low relief.
In the past, the primary focus of religious and artistic life in the region was on powerful spirits called imunu. Each imunu typically was associated with a specific location in the landscape, rivers, or sea, and was linked to the specific clan within whose territory it dwelt. Villages formerly had large communal men's houses divided into cubicles, each allotted to a particular clan or subclan. Every cubicle contained a clan shrine, which housed the gope spirit boards, figures, human and animal skulls, and other sacred objects associated with the clan's various imunu.
In July 1930, the Swiss anthropologist and collector Paul Wirz settled for several months in the Papuan Gulf, near the Era River. On one of his field photographs, the gope board presented here appears (opposite page, on the lower left hand side).

Publication

Documentation

Altar – Era River Photograph by Paul Wirz 1930
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

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