West Papua is the easternmost province in Indonesia with abundant cultural diversity. Previously known as Irian Jaya, the region is the second-largest island globally. This province refers to a very large and complex area with amazing cultural diversity in the world. In the realm of fine arts, this is where the influence of Indonesian aesthetics blends into tradition
Getting to Know Papuan Art
As is well known, Papua is located in the vast eastern part of Indonesia. Together with several nearby islands, this Province is characterized by its very large territory. For these reasons, this results in something more complex with amazing cultural and biological diversity as part of the territory of Indonesia.
Because of its large area, many tribes and indigenous people live in this province. As a result, there are about 250 languages spoken for the local community. In the realm of fine arts, there are many prominent Indonesian aesthetic influences. At the same time, this art mingled, transitioned, and ended up in the aesthetic tradition of Melanesian art.
Art of Ancestors
1. Raja Ampat
The Raja Ampat in West Papua is part of the world’s beauty because of its unique islands. This is why the interaction between humans, the sea, the sky, and the clouds is the center of much attention. According to missionary F. Kamma, in this region, there is an invisible existence just like spirits are everywhere. Thus, the souls in the Raja Ampat area demand constant peace.
At least 66 communal rituals involve longing for life, important activities, and relevant time travel. This is done to give peace to the ancestral spirits around Raja Ampat. In addition, there is also a collection of the most famous statues that still stand firmly from Raja Ampat from one altar. In fact, some of them are statue paths produced here.
Several items of ancestral art were collected at Mayalibit Bay in 1930. Three of the shrine’s figures have also become art icons with outstretched arms. It is one fan naggi term literally for nurturing heaven. Meanwhile, there is also a unique statue with a form of squatting in various strong positions.
2. Cenderawasih Bay
The people of the islands around Cenderawasih Bay, West Papua, have a passion for making ancestral statues and distinctive art. In addition, there are works of ornate canoes, carved and painted architectural boards, drums, beads, and finely detailed utilitarian objects. Particularly prominent in this area are the memorial statues. Local people call the figure a korwar.
The statue must be made by a shamanic specialist. These statues should then be arranged as abodes for the souls of the deceased. Its function is to serve the priesthood as an intermediary between the dead and the living on earth. Small versions of these statues became useful objects to fight disease for the local community.
Apart from that, its other function is to provide personal protection and is important in the divination or exorcism of Korwar. In this case, the largest statues are skillfully carved and intricately detailed. It takes the role of a trusted person according to the tribe to make it. The most memorable and proud example of a korwar in West Papua is the skull of a respected ancestor.
3. Lake Sentani & Teluk Yos Sudarso
There is something unique about this area, namely the bark painting from Lake Sentani. It depicts a collection of spirit figures with a mysterious design. Bark or maro works are decorated with certain details. As a result, these ancestral artworks are historically world-renowned as sought after by Western collectors. Maro’s paintings influenced the most beloved art movement in Western Surrealism.
Starting with examples of work by Paul Wirz in 1921 and later, collected by Jacques Viot. After that, these extraordinary compositions quickly became popular in Paris. Maro inspired the legendary artist and author of the Surrealist Manifesto, who was a passionate fan of primitive art.
In addition, there are hardwood pillars and large house posts with bold carvings. These poles are sunk into Lake Sentani to support traditional dwellings above the water. These pillars miraculously represent how prominent heads and ancestors were at their best. They chose the one they were most proud of.
Above the head of the image, you can see the wooden shape of the fan post to create natural support. This design is useful to provide greater architectural stability to the house. They gave rise to the myth that the first humans came from the cosmic tree. In addition, there are Yos Sudarso or Humboldt Bay people skilled in making canoe ornaments, house panels, and bark cloth.
4. Asmat & Mimika
The Asmat and Mimika tribes have the most iconic memorial extreme ancestral art. Headhunting, ancestor worship, and fertility, are the powerful aspects behind many Asmat social rituals or practices. Their ceremonial pillars (Bijs) are complex creations traditionally erected to follow orders from their ancestors in West Papua.
All in all, Papua has ancestral art that should be proud of because it is iconic and monumental. Some of them try to decorate wooden surfaces to represent the power of their ancestors. Some consider an object as an intermediary between the dead and the living. In this case, the symbols on the engravings call upon the ancestors and protect the local community.