The Kwoma, the subject of this book, are one of a number of peoples in the Sepik River region of northern Papua New Guinea who have created some of the most distinctive visual art in the Pacific. Through case studies of their painting, sculpture, architecture and ritual this book examines in detail how people in this society understand their art as a cultural phenomenon. This includes how they understand its origins in the spirit world, how they judge quality in art and how they understand artistic creativity. The book contrasts Kwoma beliefs with the radically different approach to art found in the modern West. The modern Western concept of art first emerged not in the eighteenth century in the Enlightenment, or even later, as anthropologists and art historians often assume, but several centuries earlier in the Renaissance. The book gives an account of radical changes that took place culturally in Europe between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries in the way human intellectual creativity was understood, and how this gave rise to a new concept of art, one that remains unchanged in the modern West today.
Ross Bowden is an Australian cultural anthropologist whose main interests are in the art, history and social organization of societies in the Sepik River region of northern Papua New Guinea.
Chapter 1. Sources of Creativity in Art
Chapter 2. The Supernatural Origins of Men’s Houses and Their Art
Chapter 3. The Supernatural Origins of Kwoma Ritual
Chapter 4. Cultural Implications of Kwoma Notions of Creativity in Art
Chapter 5. A Cross-Cultural Perspective
Chapter 6. Related Issues
Art and Creativity in a New Guinea Society: The Kwoma in Cross-Cultural Perspective is an exciting journey to the artistic world of the Kwoma in the Sepik River Region of Papua New Guinea. Drawing on thirty-five years of studying and communicating with the Kwoma, Ross Bowden introduces readers to lavishly painted Men’s Houses and the rituals held there. His research serves as a starting point for a detailed and fascinating cross-cultural exploration of abstract and non-abstract approaches to art, and has resulted in an outstanding work on the material expression of Sepik creativity set against the background of international art.
Ross Bowden’s long-term research on the cultural and ritual context of the paintings, sculptures and architecture of the Kwoma is presented in clear, non-technical language which argues that the Kwoma and similar societies ‘locate the sources of creativity outside the individual in the supernatural world.’ In a masterful survey of art history, Bowden contrasts this with ‘those societies that attribute creativity in art to individuals.’ This work has profound implications for the understanding and writing of cross-cultural research on art.
Ross Bowden presents a deeper cultural perspective on the role of the artist and creativity by challenging us to consider sources of inspiration that come from creation itself. Drawing on insights from the Kwoma, a society that has had the isolation, time, and introspection necessary to conceive of an alternate perspective on reality, this work allows us to appreciate and contrast diverse modes of consciousness.
This book really is a "must read" for those of us whose interest in Oceanic or any other kind of Indigenous art is primarily aesthetic and not underpinned by much, if any, anthropological or arthistory expertise. Ross Bowden has done many years of academic research and has returned several times, over a period of more than three decades, to the remote Bangwis village, a Kwoma language-group community in the middle Sepik River region of Papua New Guinea. By virtue of his Kwoma language skills, he has learned from the local people about the sources of inspiration of their visual arts, including painting, architecture, ritual dancing and statues.
The argument and illustrative material in this fascinating book are intriguingly dual: in the first place, specifically ethnographically local, in the second, speculatively near global. In short, this book is both an authoritative ethnographic report and a proposal for a major world art research project. After more than thirty years, Bowden's Kwoma fieldwork may be done, but may the major new research he proposes be further theorized and designed. Let it commence.