Asmat Performances at the Mid-City National Bank 801 West Madison Street
Chicago , IL 60607
ART SPRING FROM RITES OF ASMATS
By Kevin M. Williams / STAFF REPORTER Chicago Sun-Times (Friday, May 14,1999)
Ethnographic art and our perceptions of it are beautifully illustrative of how lines can be obscured by differing interpretation. We see tribal masks and various offerings from a foreign culture, and for all to many people. They’re these tchotckes that we see in museums and promptly forget. Like a sentence taken out of context, art as derives from ritual gains much from being seen in its environment.
Which makes “Journey to Asmat” a show appearing this weekend at the MidCity National Bank, a rare, genuine way to see this type of art. A bank might seem rather an odd place for an art exhibition, but it is in part explained by the allure of the Asmat people, and Indonesian group that has only recently emerged from the stone age.
“People has come back from trips to Asmat, quit their jobs and changed their jobs,” said Asmat curator Patty Seery, who also leads trip to Indonesia. “It so interesting to meet the people who don’t have the barriers that civilization has put up around us. It enables then to see you, and not what job you do or what you might have. That tends to bowl people over.”
The Asmat came about when MidCity Chairman E. M. Bakwin visited the village 1995 during the trip with Seery. Village elder want to adopt Seery, but felt it was rude to adopt a single person from entire party. After his adoption by the Asmat, complete with tribal garb and ritual, and seeing first hand the art and culture of the people. Bakwin wanted to begin colleting art. Seery suggested going one better , by bringing over Asmat people, in addition to their Asmat art.
Four Master Curver and Entertainer who name are Abraham DesNam, Robertus ATju, Alfons FemBes, Siprianus YumKo and Donatus PombAy, with Andre Liem who is Tour Guide in Asmat-Papua, and included Yuvent BiakAy who is the Curator of the Asmat Museum of Art and Culture in Agats-Asmat Diocese will be on hand during the exhibition to answer questions and demonstrate how this art is a part of daily lives.
A headhunting people until as recently as the ‘40s, the Asmats, like many primitive cultures, have a strong belief and spirituality. Their elaborate, carved and painted shields are a tribute to a deceased village member. By painting the person’s name on the shield, the Asmat believe that it makes that person come alive, providing added strength to the villager carrying the shield. Ceremonial Asmat Bisj poles are large, totemic carvings, done by a community when someone dies. Included this show, which will transform the lobby of the bank, is a 23-foot-long Bisj pole containing seven figures. It has undergone months of ritual use. “They also have spirit masks, like full body masks,” Seery said. “Their spirit come back to live in the village spending couple of weeks or month there. The Asmat have a holistic approach to art. Without art can not be ceremony. They say, “Art makes the invisible visible,”
“Journey to Asmat,” thought only at MidCity for a brief time, is a chance to witness ethnographic art and how it defines a group. Believers and harmony and balance, the Asmat feel that everything related, and that life is filled with spirituality.
“It’s an opportunity to meet the Asmat,” Andre Liem said. “To see how much the tradition is alive for them. They’re charismatic, not easily forgotten. (Collected by PaTGom-File-All Right Reserved)