Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Lintel Carving from a Ceremonial House

early to mid-20th century
Papua New Guinea, Prince Alexander Mountains, Middle Sepik River
Yangoru Boiken
Wood, paint
L. 150 in. (381 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Lynda Cunningham, 2012
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
The ceremonial houses of the Mountain Boiken people in the Sepik River region of Papua New Guinea, share many architectural features with those of the neighboring Abelam people. Both groups construct towering triangular facades adorned with paintings. A decorative lintel carving, spanning the full width of the facade, separates the upper painted section from the entrance below. Yangoru Boiken ceremonial houses are predominantly associated with primordial spirits (wala) and with spirits that inhabit the surrounding forest. While the large facade paintings represent eyes and other features of wala, the lintel carving depicts a continuous row of nine small, upright figures, likely representations of these same primordial spirits, which alternate with ten brightly colored bird figures. This row of upright figures is bracketed at either end by a large anthropomorphic face shown lying on its side. The entire work is painted in white, red, yellow, and black with accents of bright blue provided by a coloring agent known as Reckitt’s blue, which was circulating in the region from the early decades of the twentieth century.

An important, large-scale work, this lintel has been a vital element of the Met’s New Guinea sculpture collection since the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing first opened in 1982. Boiken lintel carvings are extremely rare, with only roughly a dozen examples known, many of them fragmentary. Of the existing corpus, the present work, which is complete, is by far the finest in terms of the quality of its carving, completeness, and condition.
Acquired in Papua New Guinea by Lynda Cunningham, New York, between 1968 and 1971, until 2012

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 46–47.

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