Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Exotic Oceanic Wing of the Met

6th - Live-in Session


This is my favorite section of the Metropolitan. Unfortunately a section that is very overlooked as it is at the end of the building and behind the Greek and Roman Art.
It is named the Michael C. Rockefeller wing after the son of Nelson A. Rockefeller (NY Governor, vice President) who collected many of the Asmat objects from Papa New Guinea. Michael disappeared when he was only 23 years old on his second exploration trip to the Papa New Guinea. 

On November 18, 1961, Rockefeller and Dutch anthropologist René Wassing were in a 40-foot dugout canoe about three miles from shore when their double pontoon boat was swamped and overturned. Their two local guides swam for help, but it was slow in coming. After drifting for some time, Rockefeller said to Wassing "I think I can make it" and swam for shore. Wassing was rescued the next day, while Rockefeller was never seen again, despite an intensive and lengthy search effort. At the time, Rockefeller's disappearance was a major world news item. No body was found, and he was finally declared dead in 1964.
-Missing Persons, Invision Free

Kwoma Ceiling

A remade ceremonial house ceiling from the Sepik River in the northwestern New Guinea. The roof went nearly to the ground and was supported by posts and beams but without walls.

Kavat Masks still in use in the 1970's.

House Post
Sentani People, Lake Sentani
New Guinea, 19th Century

Most of the art from Oceania comes from the last 400 years, especially since they were primarily made out wood and would disappear and rotten over time. This Y-shaped roof supporter is made from one piece of trunk and then architecturally engraved.
I immediately began a dream about having this done to a tree myself. Cut a tree down through the roots and then invert it to a post. Incredibly inventive!

Headdress effigy (Hareiga)

This was carried on top of the heads of the Papa New Guinea dancers. Sometimes they could be about 50 feet (15 meter). This one is huge in reality, I can't imagine anybody dancing with it.

Asmat Bis Poles

Created as focal points of a memorial feast honoring ancestors and people that recently died. Every pole has a name, and here is the extreme part; A death is said to be caused by an enemy and created an imbalance that had to be corrected, so after a numerous of deaths the male elders staged a Bis feast, that was held in a conjunction with a headhunting raid! 

Two figures (Nggwalndu)
Abelam poeple,
Sepik region, Papa New Guinea
19th- early 20th century

Body Masks

Mask (Buk Krar, or Kara)
Torres Strait Islander people, Mabulag Island
Mid to late 19th Century.
Turtle shell, Wood, fiber, feathers, shell

A turtle shell mask was usually used in a funeral ceremony and increase rites, designed to ensure bountiful harvests and and abundance of fish and game. This was often reenacted events from the lives of culture-heroes.

Ancestor figure
Sawos people, Papa New Guinea, 
19th Century or earlier

Headrest (Amba Ragat)
Iatmul people, Aibom village
Papua New Guinea, 19th Century

Water drum (?)

Baby Carrier (Ba')
Borneo, Indonesia
late 19th early 20th century

The baby is carried in the baby carrier until they are two, here the infants soul is being protected from danger. The Kenya/Kayan people believed the child's soul was not firmly attached to its body yet. It could be lured away by spirits, sickness or death. The rattling sounds made by teeth, beads and other amulets attached to the baby carrier repel malevolent spirits that threaten the child inside.

Gable Figure (Dilukal)
Belauan people, Caroline Islands
19th - early 20th century

In the mens house Bai where they had meetings feasts and informal gatherings, they had painted architectural carvings. In som Bai's they had a Dilukal a carved figure of a woman attached to the gable above the entrance. In some oral traditions:

Dilukai is the name of the sister of Atmatuyuk a troublesome man who fled to a Bai with her and was later expelled. To prevent his return, the residents placed a naked image of Dilukai over the entrance, it being forbidden for a brother to see his sister unclothed. 

Men's Ear Ornaments (Batling)
Ilongot people, northern Luzon Islan, Philippines,
late 19th-early 20th century.

Ear ornaments 
Ono Niha people, Nias Island
19th century

Puppet (Si Gale-gale)
Toba Batak people, Sumatra, Indonesia

It is hard to leave the Oceanic world filled with its strong rituals and mysteries. 
Let me know how you feel when you go there, it is absolutely another of New York's Treasures! And one that hits you in the gut!

With Love

Previous "Live - In" Sessions at the Met:


  1. gosh i haven't been to the met in SO LONG! - scary long actually

  2. Gorgeous photos, darling!
    Haven't been to this wing for years!


  3. WOW! Thanks for all the terrific photos and narrative. Wonderful, wonderful.

  4. I'll have to remember this for when I go there someday, I love it! And I hope you had an amazing New Years!!

  5. Oh wow! I am not a huge fan of oceanic art, but this is quite stunning! Happy New Year, darling! XX!

  6. beautiful, no i haven't spent significant time here yet. last time i was at the met it was all about steichen, stieglitz & strand....have you checked that one out yet? i know you're not leaving nyc w/o seeing it...

  7. just love this post Kristin - top pic is my favourite :))
    have a great w/end

  8. Wow I didn't know about this section. My there is so much to explore at the Met!

  9. I so have to remember this when Im in the city next time...Thanks, sweetie for that wonderful post:)
    Have fun packing sweetie...I usually pack in the last minute too..hahah

  10. Oh wow these are really neat! I've never been to the Met....

  11. When I go to NYC, a visit to the met is certain. :)SarahD

  12. That baby carrier is so fascinating!

  13. wow!! thanks for sharing these lovely pics and your explanation...most of these places i may never visit except on your blog...which is why i love coming by here! :)

  14. Bradford, yes I did get a chance to see the steichen, stieglitz & strand exhibit... unfortunately did not have a chance to write about it. You are making me slightly guilty about not writing more about photographers... but it will come:)

  15. Thanks for the write-up. This is my favorite few rooms in NYC. I go every time I'm in the city. Fantastic art. The Torres Straits turtle shell mask is magnificent. The Easter Island Figures (not pictured) are highlights as well. Fantastic, thanks for the memories.