In 2001, the Lowell D. Holmes Museum of Anthropology at Wichita State University had the great fortune of being able to send an expedition into the Asmat region to collect the art for the museum's collection.

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The Holmes Museum  is open to the public from: Monday -Friday 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm (Closed Saturday and Sunday.)

The Museum is closed in June, July and August. Groups tours are welcome with a two week notice.

The museum is free to the public, donations are accepted.

     

The Asmat people live on the western half of the Island of New Guinea. This area, called Papua, is the largest and least developed of all of Indonesia's 27 provinces. Dense forest and mangrove swamp cover 85% of its area and parts of the interior remain unexplored. Approximately 65,000 Asmat inhabit a vast landscape of Mangrove swamp, meandering rivers, and a large expanse of mud, which extends for more then 175 miles along the western coast of Papua. 

The Asmat still live a very complex ceremonial life controlled by the need to maintain harmony between the world of the living and the spirit world of the dead. During these ceremonies a large variety of carvings and masks are used, each having their own function and meaning. These ceremonial objects have long been famous because of their beautiful intricate carving and often very large scale. Asmat art is also very rare. In the past the Asmat were shielded from external influences by the harshness of their environment and their fierce war-like reputation. Then in the 1950's missionaries and the Indonesian Government began colonizing the area. The Asmat traditions of headhunting and cannibalism ended in the 1970's, but very tight and restrictive controls over the Asmat remained until 2002. 

Few people were allowed to visit the area and very little Asmat art was collected for collectors and museums. In 2001, the Lowell D. Holmes Museum of Anthropology at Wichita State University had the great fortune of being able to send an expedition into the Asmat region to collect the art for the museum's collection. Paula and Barry Downing, who during a visit in 1998 saw and understood the wonderful beauty of Asmat art and culture, underwrote the expedition. The Director of the Holmes Museum, Jerry Martin and an Asmat expert, Patti Seery, with a crew of eight Indonesian and Asmat people traveled the jungles and swamps for six weeks to purchase and research the traditional and ceremonial art of the area. They left the region with one of the largest and most important collections of Asmat art now found in the United States. The only other large Asmat collection found in the United State that was collected from the field by trained anthropological museum personnel is the Michael Rockefeller collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. 

The Ulrich Museum of Art and the Holmes Museum of Anthropology are very proud to present for the first time to the public a selection of objects from the Barry and Paula Downing collection of Asmat art. The exhibition will be held simultaneously at both museums beginning on April 29, 2004 Spirit Journeys: the Art of the Asmat, the exhibition at the Ulrich Museum will emphasize the artistic aspects of Asmat art. Featuring a number of "Bis" ancestor poles" towering 20 feet in the air, "Wuramon" Soul Ships, life sized body masks, drums and a host of other ceremonial objects. Spirit Journeys: Ritual and Ceremony of the Asmat, the exhibition at the Holmes Museum, will feature a replica of a men's ceremonial house with Asmat dancers, drummers and spirit masks celebrating a traditional "Doroe" or "Farewell to the Spirits of the Dead" ceremony.

 

 

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