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The Sepik River of Papua New Guinea is one of the largest river systems in the world, extraordinarily beautiful, but seldom visited. It is here that the Iatmul people, who live along its banks, have created internationally renowned works of art primarily inspired by stories of the majestic crocodile as the primordial creator.
This unique exhibition will showcase the most comprehensive collection of contemporary Sepik art in North America for the first time. In addition to highlighting the exquisite carvings of Papua New Guinea’s latmul people, the exhibition will delve into their economic, cultural, and spiritual connections to the river system, drawing urgent attention to the logging and mining operations that pose environmental threats to the region.
Curated by Dr. Carol E. Mayer (MOA Curator, Pacific), In the Footprint of the Crocodile Man will showcase 27 enthralling sculptural works, created by upwards of 20 Sepik artists. Carved from wood, the strikingly beautiful pieces are ornately decorated with paint, sago fiber, cowry shells, and cassowary feathers.
Inspiration for each sculpture is drawn from a number of sources, including ritual events such as initiation ceremonies, mythical beings who visit the villages at night, daily life on the Sepik River, and from ancestral stories of the majestic crocodile as the primordial creator. A sweeping installation of 100 hand woven flying foxes will also hang from the gallery ceiling, each one greeting visitors with a distinctive expression.
The sculptural works will be displayed alongside photographs and videos of the magnificent Sepik River. These complementary components, prepared specifically for the exhibition, will provide further context for the contemporary art and highlight the environmental risks from logging and mining organizations.
The most notable and immediate threat addressed in the exhibition will be that of the Frieda Mine, where excavation will begin even as the MOA exhibition opens. Located near the Sepik headwaters, the possibility of mine tailings entering the river system poses a grave risk to the Sepik people’s economy, cultural identity, and way of life.