Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Seattle Art Museum (SAM)
menu

Asmat shield

Photo: Susan Cole

Asmat shield

early 20th century

Terror is triggered by the sight of moving shields in Asmat fields. Bursting out of a dense forest, the shields signal oncoming combatants as they dodge and lunge forward, leaping swiftly and making zigzag movements to fend off opponents. In a region of lush verdant growth, the shields presented as "billboards" to announce that warfare was to begin. Stark designs using white clay and red accents alluded to the blood of those about to become victims. Menacing images added their force--the flying fox, wild boar, praying mantis, hornbill and black palm cockatoo--are all present in this assembly. Warfare is a sacred duty laid down by a mythical hero, and every death has to be avenged to allow the souls of the dead to become ancestors.

Filigree shapes cover this shield with signs that may signify the deadly assault of a praying mantis. Since the female praying mantis sometimes bites the head of her male partner after mating, her aggression is symbolically evoked to empower the Asmat warrior.
Wood, raffia and pigment
71 x 20 1/2in. (180.3 x 52.1cm)
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Griffin, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum
2004.236
Photo: Susan Cole
location
Not currently on view

Resources

Published ReferencesMcClusky, Pamela, The Art of War, A Community of Collectors, Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 2008, p. 139, illus. 118.

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.