Regions and Rituals: The Role of Missionaries in Preserving Asmat Art

double figured Ajour

American Museum of Asmat Art Fall 2019 Exhibition

Date & Time:

Wednesday, September 4, 2019
10:00 AM - 2:00 PM


The American Museum of Asmat Art (AMAA)

The Gallery, 2nd floor, Anderson Student Center

The American Museum of Asmat Art (AMAA) at the University of St. Thomas presents an exhibition exploring how Catholic missionaries have worked to preserve artistic expression in four Asmat cultural groups: Bismam, Becembub, Safan and Unir Sirau.

When examining Asmat art, it is essential to consider when an object was made, the region it came from and how external forces have transformed traditional practices. There are twelve major Asmat cultural groups and art produced in those areas often reflect the ritualistic traditions and social customs of specific communities. While some commonalities exist between these groups in terms of artistic inspiration or carving techniques, stylistic preferences and iconography can vary greatly according to region, the ingenuity of individual makers and Catholic mission work in the area.

Curated by students from the Arts of the Pacific Islands course with Professor Gretchen Burau. Assisted by art history undergraduate Tatum Whiteford and art history graduate students Molly MacIntosh and Taylor Menendez. A special thank you to Father Virgil Petermeier who lived and worked in Asmat from 1974-2010 and provided information about mission activities in the area.

*Accompanying this exhibition is a digital story map that was initially created in Professor Burau’s Arts of the Pacific Islands course. As part of this class, students studied and selected objects from these four regions and placed the works on digital maps according to the village or region in which they were made. Through a STELAR Digital Humanities Grant, a final version of this map was created using ArcGIS software with the help of STELAR Associate Director, Eric Tornoe, and journalism undergraduate Maggie Martin. This map will be updated over time and used to help visitors at the AMAA gallery and eventually on the AMAA website gain a better understanding of Asmat life then and now.


Image: Ajour Carving, Artist Unknown, before 1981, Asmat people, Becembub region, Wood, Gift of the American Crosier Fathers and Brothers (AMAA 0147)

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