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Asmat Bis Pole

You have to look a long time to catch all of the details in this amazing wood carving. Its curved abstract forms and powerful human figures certainly grab and hold our attention. However, this wood sculpture was not made for museumgoers to gaze at. It was created to attract the attention and favor of ancestor spirits. For the Asmat people of New Guinea, taking care of ancestors is extremely important. In fact, their livelihood depends on it.

Asmat culture, New Guinea (Indonesia, Papua province)
Bis pole, 20th century
Wood, pigment
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund

Keeping life in balance
A place to hold the spirits
A closer look at a bis pole

Honoring Ancestors: Showing respect and honor to ancestors is a tradition in many cultures. How do people in your community show respect for their ancestors? Do they host special events to honor people from the past? Draw a picture of an important ancestor that you would like to honor.  

A Threatened Environment: The trees of the rain forest provide the Asmat with food and shelter and the wood for their elaborate carvings. Unfortunately, logging now threatens the environment the Asmat depend on. Search the Internet to find out about rain forests and how they can be saved. Before you start your research, create a K-W-L chart. List what you already know about rain forests and what you would like to learn more about. After your search, fill in the L column with what you have learned.  

Everything Asmat: Visit the Web site of the American Museum of Asmat Art at the University of St. Thomas to find out more about the Asmat people and their art. Be sure to read about how Asmat art objects came to the Twin Cities.  

Visit the Museum: You can view the bis pole in Gallery 276.  

February 2009