Accepted Paper:

Kwoma understandings of creativity in art and some implications for museums  


Ross Bowden

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines creativity in the art and architecture of the Kwoma of the Sepik River region of northern New Guinea, how artists and others understand it, and some of the implications for the way 'art' objects are treated.

Paper long abstract:

The Kwoma of Papua New Guinea are the source of some of the most distinctive visual art in the Pacific. The speaker will argue that there is probably as much scope for creativity in the art of this society, relatively speaking, as there is in any other, and will provide illustrations. But Kwoma themselves view their art not as the creation of humans but of supernatural beings and consider that all artists do is replicate, with minor variations, the forms spirits created at the beginning of history. Differences between artists in terms of the quality of their achievements are explained not on the basis of personal creativity but technical skill.

This view of art has major implications for how artists and others in this society understand and treat those objects that in the modern West would be called 'art'. This includes how quality in art is judged, why Kwoma lack a term equivalent to 'art', whether or not any effort is made to remember who made particular artworks or preserve the names of the greatest artists, and whether any attempt is made to preserve artworks themselves once they have begun to decay and served the purpose for which they were made.

The speaker will draw out some of the implications of these beliefs for museum practices.

Panel P089
The Anthropology of Creativity in Art