Accepted Paper:

Reframing New Guinea Art for a #FreeWestPapua  


Marion Cadora (UC Santa Cruz)

Paper short abstract:

This paper offers a critical reframing of New Guinea artifacts displayed in museums that work in solidarity with indigenous communities and participates in conversations about Free West Papua.

Paper long abstract:

The island of New Guinea is divided in two countries, the eastern half is occupied by the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, and the western half, called West Papua, is colonized by Indonesia. West Papua was annexed by Indonesia and integrated into it after a contested referendum of self-determination in 1969. There is a movement of scholars and artists around the Pacific who are participating in conversations about #FreeWestPapua and calling for a recognition about the ongoing human rights issues. What is the responsibility of museums to participate in these contemporary political conversations? By analyzing canons of display of New Guinea art in some of the most prestigious art museums throughout the US, this paper offers a critical reframing of New Guinea artifacts that work in solidarity with indigenous communities.

Displays commonly frame artifacts as "masterworks" of art, through the lens of "aesthetic universalism" (or signifiers of authenticity and purity of objects). The exhibitions play on the colonial myth of primitivism, rhetoric of geographical remoteness, and do not elicit questions beyond narratives of formal qualities.This paper advocates for curatorial strategies that move beyond object-based presentations and instead make stronger connections to the relationships that pieces have to contemporary communities.

Panel P109
Curating with an Anthropological Approach