Spotlight Talk: Aoife O'Brien

April 24, 2017

The Kemper Art Museum’s Spotlight Series of online essays invites both established and emerging scholars to offer an array of perspectives on a range of artworks in the Museum’s collection. Each season gallery talks provide visitors the chance to join the authors for deeper analysis and stimulating conversation.

Join Aoife O’Brien, Korff Postdoctoral Fellow in Oceanic Art in the Department of Art History & Archaeology in Arts & Sciences and at the Saint Louis Art Museum, for a discussion of Homme Oiseau (Man-Bird), a roof finial dating from the late 19th to early 20th century that was originally used to decorate the gable of a ceremonial men’s house in the middle Sepik region of Papua New Guinea. The figure served a focal symbolic and decorative role within village life, yet during the course of the early 20th century—a period of objectification and commoditization of Oceanic art by Euro-Americans—the indigenous significance of the object became marginalized and obscured. Indeed, the title now ascribed this object, Homme Oiseau, is a Western construct.

In her talk, O’Brien will explore the culture that created the object and the object’s indigenous significance, including mythologies and interpretations for bird iconography in this region of New Guinea. She will also discuss the composition and decoration of the figure and how objects such as this influenced Western artists.

Available in the Museum shop, Spotlights: Collected by the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum features a selection of 46 Spotlight essays, highlights from the ongoing scholarly project. Members receive a 10% discount.

Image credit

Unknown (Oceanic, New Guinea, Sepik River), Homme Oiseau (Man-Bird), early 20th century. Carved polychrome wood, 48 x 43 3/4 x 18". University purchase, Kende Sale Fund, 1945.

Free and open to the public.