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Spirit Figure (Bioma or Agiba)

Arts of the Pacific Islands

This highly animated figure is the work of an exceptionally gifted artist from the Wapo/Era area of the Gulf province of Papua New Guinea. Small silhouette figures of this type, called bioma, are usually placed near the floor within the men's ceremonial house in proximity to trophy skulls of pigs and crocodiles. Characteristically, bioma figures from this area are flat with two sets of limbs, one upraised, one lowered, with ridged edges along the outer sides. The extraordinary vitality of this figure is a result of its having been cut from a curved slab of wood that was probably part of an old canoe. John W. Vandercook, one of the most famous traveler-adventurers and writers of his day, likely collected the piece between 1929 and 1933.
MEDIUM Wood, natural pigments
DATES early 20th century
DIMENSIONS 27 x 10 x 6 in. (68.6 x 25.4 x 15.2 cm)  (show scale)
INSCRIPTIONS Fabric labels on back read: "Meagama - Gopi Delta Div. Papua 11/13/33 - 3 st. tobacco 2 [illegible] beads"; paper label reads "B'Klyn L.101.6"; writen and crossed out in red: "34.142L"; written in red: "51.118.9"
CREDIT LINE Gift of John W. Vandercook
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Flat, carved, wooden male figure (bioma or agiba) with two sets of arms and legs, painted red, white, and black. The knee and elbow joints are connected by bridges. The figure is in fair condition. The top of the upper half of the right arm is broken off and missing; at the center of the object, the edge of the right hand is broken off and missing; on the lower part of the torso are water stains; in the wood, passing from the left foot at the base, up the leg, is a deep split; part of the right thigh of the lower body is broken off and missing; part of the leg on the right side of the lower body was broken off and repaired. From accession card: Stylized, flat wooden male figure with four sets of limbs, two upraised, two lowered. It is painted black, sides connected with bridges at the knee and elbow joints. This figure has eight opposing limbs with raised designs imposed over them and the torso. It was cut from a curved slab (probably part of an old canoe- see refs/Newton). These small figures called 'bioma' are placed with legs in the eye sockets of wild pig skulls, which are regarded as almost as important trophies as human heads. They are kept in men's houses. Condition: Upper half of top right arm broken off and missing; edge of hands of middle right arm broken off and missing; water stains on lower part of torso; deep split in wood from foot up into leg on left- leg separating into two pieces; part of right thigh broken off and missing; upper leg on right side was previously broken off and repaired.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Era River. Spirit Figure (Bioma or Agiba), early 20th century. Wood, natural pigments, 27 x 10 x 6 in. (68.6 x 25.4 x 15.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of John W. Vandercook, 51.118.9. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 51.118.9_SL3.jpg)
IMAGE front, 51.118.9_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2022
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