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Asmat - a private collection

Asmat exhibition

From October 3 to 11, 2020 the Oude Pastorie in Boortmeerbeek, 10 km north of Brussels, is welcoming a great show on Asmat Art of New Guinea.

Shields, drums, yam masks, weapons, fiber and shells ornaments, figures come from the collection of Hugo Deboudt who has been gathering them since 1981. 

In the introduction of the beautiful catalogue that accompanies the exhibition Hugo Deboudt tells us about how he came into collecting Asmat Art: 

"Quite unexpected sometime in 1981, my good friend Alain Guisson showed me a picture that knocked the socks off me. It was an "eye opener". And was told it was from the Asmat, a people from New Guinea. It became my first purchase of an object from Oceania and the beginning of my Asmat art collection. I quickly got to know the art and culture of the people who live in one of the most humid areas of the tropical world, on the south side of the Indonesian western half of New Guinea. I find the technical skills that the sculptors put into practice and their unrestrained imagination within a certain ideological framework to be phenomenal. The use of colored dyes to 'bring the images to life' is also brilliant.

Their monumental, meters-high, openwork poles called ‘ bisj ‘which represent an ingenious stacking of people, animals and transcendent creatures, are among their most striking cultural expressions. The symbolic roots of these poles reach to the sky like an upside-down tree. In terms of content, they make the connection with the ancestors, whose memories and respect shown must not be lost. After all, they feed the living society of the Asmat. Just as flying foxes eat round fruits to live, the Asmat cherish the skulls of their dead or those of killed and therefore adopted enemies. They decorate them, address them, consult them and sleep under them.

Life and death are intertwined. Deadly violence and anthropphagia serve to continue the life cycle. For decades, this philosophy has now been put into practice.

We can call the Asmat culture rich in content and formally exuberant. Utensils such as drums, neck rests, receptacles, shields and spears are usually lavishly decorated with motifs and ornaments. Thrift or emptiness is not part of the artistic idiom of the Asmat. At ceremonies and festivities, the body of the Asmat man or woman herself becomes the bearer of beauty. Their finery is showy and intended to radiate prestige. For this they use the beautiful things that nature offers them: leaves and fibers, berries, shells, bone fragments and especially feathers of the brightly colored local birds.

Coincidence and friendship formed the basis of my acquaintance with the Asmat and of the phenomenal exploration I was allowed to make. I would like to thank everyone who has been a sounding board for me and who made this exhibition and catalog possible. I also hope that the visitors and readers are fascinated by the beauty, emotion and knowledge that I like to share with them."

Practical information:

October 3 - 11, 2020
Oude Pastorie

Ravensteinstraat 22
3191 Boortmeerbeek

Facebook page

The catalogue will be available through Vasco Books.

Kave ancestor figure papua new guinea

Kave ancestor figure, Asmat, New Guinea, Papua region, Indonesia.

Group of asmat shields papua

Group of Asmat shields, New Guinea, Papua region, Indonesia.

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