Gods, ghosts and men
Pacific arts from the National Gallery of Australia

10 October 2008 – 11 January 2009 | Orde Poynton Gallery and Project Gallery

Introduction | Article | Selected works | Events

Kaipel Ka Papua New Guinea Six to six shield 1990–95 wood, paint, wire, rattan 148.0 x 47.0 x 12.0 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Kaipel Ka  Papua New Guinea  
Six to six shield  1990–95  wood, paint, wire, rattan  148.0 x 47.0 x 12.0 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra more detail


Gods, Ghosts and men introduces the visitor to the richness and diversity of the traditional sculptural arts in the Pacific region and provides a rare insight into the National Gallery of Australia’s collection of over two thousand works from the region. The exhibition will include objects from Max Ernst’s private collection of nonwestern art and a number of iconic objects, such as the Ambum stone from Papua New Guinea and the Double figure from a housepost [To-reri uno] from Lake Sentani, Papua New Guinea.

The over 75 works in Gods, ghosts and men, are the husks, the physical elements, of rituals and festive events – which are still remarkably moving even though they are now silent. One such work is the bridal veil (ambusap) with its painstakingly applied shell decorations. The veil formed a major part of a series of adornments a bride would wear for the important event of entering her husband’s house for the first time. How the wearer of this particular veil (presumably the envy of other women in the community for wearing such finery) must have felt upon this occasion in her life we cannot guess at, yet the work itself, its flowing intricacy, conveys a sense of elegance befitting the event it was made for.

In bright comparison to the ambusap, Kaipel Ka's Six 2 six shield highlights the richness and vitality of contemporary Pacific arts. The shield is actually quite old with a pecked design below its more recently painted surface. Ka has produced series of shields with identical designs for warring groups, maintaining the collective identity of the fight group in much the same way football colours are worn. The shield depicts two birds of paradise perched upon a skull with glaring eyes and below is the slogan ‘six 2 six’ which, in the Wahgi Valley area, is an invitation to party all night long; although, in this context, it has become an aggressive statement intended to unnerve the opponent – we will fight you from dawn until dusk, six to six.


Gods, ghosts and men will open at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra only from 10 October 2008 until 11 January 2009