War Shield

c. 1940
Overall: 176.5 x 60.3 x 7 cm (69 1/2 x 23 3/4 x 2 3/4 in.)
Location: not on view
This artwork is known to be under copyright.

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The carving of war shields was celebrated by the Asmat with a special feast, which was immediately followed by a headhunting raid. Each shield was named after an ancestor, who inspired strength and courage in the new owner. Shields were carved from the buttress roots of mangrove trees and decorated with raised symbolic designs. Their surfaces were painted white (lime), red (ochre), and black (charcoal). Motifs frequently carved on shields include squatting ancestors and fruit-eating animals such as flying foxes and hornbills. Fruits are considered analogous to human heads, and thus fruit-eaters symbolize headhunting ancestors. Tassels made from large sago palm leaves once hung from the shield's edges.
War Shield

War Shield

c. 1940

Melanesia, Irian Jaya, Asmat people, 20th century

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