Capturing the Power of the Spirit World: Ritual Objects from Northeast Papua New Guinea

July 29 – October 22, 2017

Study Gallery

Organized by anthropologist David Eisler, the exhibition features 24 objects, including sculptures, masks, dance ornaments, utensils, and vessels which he collected in Papua New Guinea in the mid-1970s as he conducted research for his PhD with the University of Oregon.

Director John Olbrantz says, “In 2014, we were thrilled when David donated 29 superb examples of Papua New Guinea art to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, and most recently, when he agreed to guest curate an exhibition drawn from our Melanesian collection. When added to earlier donations from the Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, Alaska, and Richard Sundt in Eugene, Oregon, the Hallie Ford Museum of Art has what is arguably the finest collection of Papua New Guinea art in Oregon.”

Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and is one of the most geographically and culturally diverse countries in the world with over 850 languages. The objects in this exhibition offer a glimpse into a culture that has gone from isolated small-scale communities with a stone tool technology to those that are connected by roads, airplanes, and the internet, to the contemporary Western world. Much has changed over the centuries but many of the core values and beliefs that are represented in the exhibition continue to underlie activities and interactions of Papua New Guineans today.

In Papua New Guinea, traditional religions play a central role in daily life and are often based on animism, a worldview that regards objects, places, and creatures as possessing spiritual qualities. The assistance of spiritual powers is felt to be necessary for success in all activities: from feasts, exchanges, and dance ceremonies to gardening, hunting, trade, and warfare.

Many of the objects contain visible references to spiritual powers, mythological or ancestral figures, or totemic animal representations of a clan’s connection to a mythic animal hero. These elements are meant to endow the works with a deep sense of power that seeks to control the environment through ritual.


Lecture and Evening Gallery Viewing Hour
Capturing the Power of the Spirit World: Ritual Objects from Northeast Papua New Guinea
David Eisler
Thursday, September 7, 2017

Gallery Viewing 6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Lecture commences at 7:30 p.m. in the museum's Roger Hull Lecture Hall
These events are free and open to the public

Join David Eisler for an illustrated lecture on the concept of spiritual power in the art and culture of Papua New Guinea.

Financial Support

Financial support for the exhibition was provided by general operating support grants from the City of Salem's Transient Occupancy Tax funds and the Oregon Arts Commission.

Image not available

Image not available

Artist unknown, Woven dance arm band (detail), cane, nassa shells and pigments, 11.25 x 6.25 x 1.5 in., gift of David Eisler, collection of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University, Salem, OR, 2014.023.021. Photo: Dale Peterson.

Image GallerySpecial Lecture

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