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First exhibition in France to be devoted to the arts of the peoples of the River Sepik on view at musée du quai Branly
Installation view Sepik, Arts de Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinée. Du 27 octobre 2015 au 31 janvier 2016. © musée du quai Branly, photo Gautier Deblonde.

PARIS.- The first exhibition in France to be devoted to the arts of the peoples of the River Sepik in Papua New Guinea, this exhibition at the musée du quai Branly brings together 230 works from its own collections and from those of 18 European museums.

The Sepik is the longest river in Papua New Guinea. It is situated in the north of the island and covers a distance of 1,126 kilometers before it discharges into the Pacific Ocean. Large swampland, since the first millennium B.C. this area has sheltered peoples who live on the banks of or in areas close to the Sepik River and its tributaries. These societies have evolved in a world where every object lends itself to being sculpted, engraved or pictorially represented by animal and human figures or abstract motifs.

Sculptures, hooks, necklaces made up of pearl oyster shells, slit drums, bamboo flutes, wickerwork headdresses, coconut bowls, panels of painted bark, modelled-over skulls, whether they belong to the everyday or appear during ceremonies, are adorned with images or signs linked to nature and ancestral figures either human or animal.

The exhibition conjures up the setting of a traditional village with public spaces open to everyone and majestic homes built on alleyways accessible only to the initiated. In an immersive scenography, the exhibition leads to the discovery of major figures of ancestors and allows visitors to apprehend the multiple forms and variations under which the ancestors manifest themselves.

The exhibition presents the results of 35 years of research led by Philippe Peltier, Markus Schindlbeck and Christian Kaufmann. The pieces presented were chosen for their formal qualities and their ethnographic interests. Some of them are icons of the art of the Sepik. They all demonstrate the great diversity of forms developed and materials used by the inhabitants of the river banks.

In the Sepik, the social organisation of the villages requires the women to live strictly separated from the men. In an area reserved for the men, ancestors are omnipresent and appear during ritual ceremonies only accessible to the initiated.

In order to appreciate the density of this world shared between sky and water, the exhibition curator chose to enable visitors to discover the close relations maintained by the inhabitants of the valley with the world of spirits and of their ancestors.

In an immersive scenography guiding the visitor through a village, the exhibition SEPIK, Arts from Papua New Guinea lets us see and understand this unique social organisation.

While Paris is welcoming COP21 from 30 November to 11 December 2015, the Global Conference on Climate Change, the exhibition SEPIK, Arts from Papua New Guinea is highlighting the diversity of the relationships that the peoples of the northern region of Papua New Guinea have with the River Sepik.

“Sepik: this little word, that clicks like a crack of a whip in the air, has long haunted our imagination, is haunting it now and will continue to haunt it well into the future. It is one of those names that evoke far-away lands and mythical places. Here, a valley in the north of New Guinea. There are a thousand ways of discovering the Sepik civilisation. Whole generations have encountered it through reading the tales of explorers and adventurers or scientific accounts such as those of Margaret Mead or the more specialist ones of Gregory Bateson. Others have discovered it in museums, especially in German museums, in particular the Museum of Ethnology in Berlin. There, in glass cases housing unsuspected riches, they would discover, often with incredulity, objects with inventive forms that were impossible to predict, objects that acted as so many provocations to the imagination, in which mingled an uninterrupted outpouring of aggression, seduction and sexuality.” ---Philippe Peltier and Markus Schindlbeck

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