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Passport to the Past

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Spirit Board (Gope)

54 x 12 3/4 in. (137.2 x 32.4 cm)

Papua New Guinean artist
Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea; made in Gulf Province, Era River Region

Object Type: Sculpture
Medium and Support: Wood, paint
Credit Line: Gift of James and Denise Wasserstrom
Accession Number: 1987.84
Location: Currently on view
Link to this object

Traditionally, spirit or gope boards were considered dwelling places for individual spirits. Each spirit was linked to specific parts of the land, river or sea associated with the clan. They were kept in each clan’s cubicle within the larger Men’s House along with other items such as human and animal skulls meant to honor various spirits within their clan.

The boards' highly stylized imagery is believed to represent the way the spirit looks. While the imagery reflects certain consistencies within clans, their varied style and appearance reflects individual artists’ representations of individual spirits. Despite differences, every board has a face and a navel. The navel was particularly important because it served as the access point through which the spirit entered the board.
[Gallery label text, 2009]

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