This exhibition showcases the unique cultures of the Sepik River region of Papua New Guinea, a country that has been part of Australia's history and will very much be part of its future. Myth and magic opens as Papua New Guinea celebrates its 40th anniversary of independence.
Unlike the homes of other great works in Australia's national art collection, this beautiful part of Papua New Guinea is seldom visited. The wilds of the Sepik River and its southern tributaries—the Blackwater, Korewori, Yuat and Keram rivers—are not your typical tourist destinations. And yet, the Sepik River is one of the largest river systems in the world and is home to an array of art-producing communities distinguished for their visual arts, including sculptures of supernatural beings, masks and other fascinating objects that beguile and bewilder all who encounter them.
Sculptures of crocodiles can be larger than life-size; some are the length of four people, as is the case of the colossal spirit crocodile figure from the Korewori River on loan to the National Gallery of Australia from the National Museum and Art Gallery of the Papua New Guinea. Australia's national collection includes a ceremonial house post covered in carved designs of crocodile scales, and even an exquisite bridal veil (ambusap), from the collection incorporates the crocodile motif. Traditional jewellery from the Sepik River is among the most ornate in Melanesia, and the veil, which terminates in a woven crocodile head, shows the tightest hand-binding technique and great attention to detail in the application of hundreds of tiny nassa shells.
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