Asmat Art Forms

Art Forms & Artists

Forms and Regional Variations

Asmat culture is well-known for the visually powerful sculpture and fiber art it produces. Forms include, but are not limited to, shields, masks, bisj (ancestor poles), wuramon (soul ships), and men's bags. While Asmat culture in general is associated with all of these object types, art traditions vary from one region to another and not every region produces all of the forms listed above. For example, carvers in the Becembub and Bismam areas produce bisj while carvers in the Joerat region create wuramon. Within regions, as well as within villages, artists demonstrate a range of styles and approaches to carving and weaving. Specific villages can become known for particular types of carving. Sculptors in the village of Atsj became famous for delicate open-work carvings or ajour. Today carvers from Sawa and Erma are known for producing elaborate oval panels with intricate patterns and subject matter that is based on traditional imagery but does not necessarily adhere to traditional styles.

Adam Saimas

As Asmat art gains international attention individual carvers are being recognized more often by a larger audience. For much of his career Adam Saimas sculpted figures that move in a graceful and intentional manner. His compositions focus on one or a few people participating in an activity such as drumming or walking to a celebration. Although the small figurative sculptures produced by Saimas during the 20th century were similar in terms of size to those carved by other Asmat artists, his 21st century works are even more delicate representations of established subject matter. A man in a boat with his dog or an individual holding a musical instrument were frequent subjects of the carvings Saimas created on this scale. 

Adam Saimas in the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress, Agats. Saimas is shown with his carving of a man walking toward a ceremonial gathering in a men's house or jeu. This work won the first prize for the small carving category at the 9th annual Cultural Festival and Art Auction that was held in 1990. Photo by Julie Risser, October 2009

A Growing Recognition of Art Produced by Asmat Women
While books, videos, and exhibitions tend to feature art produced by Asmat men, Asmat women are beginning to receive recognition for their art forms. At the 2009 annual Asmat Cultural Festival and Art Auction fiber objects including story mats, decorated bags, belts, skirts, and headdresses were sold at the auction alongside sculpture produced by men. This was the first time works created by women were included at this event.

Fiber pieces produced by women and selected for the auction at the annual Asmat Cultural Festival and Art Auction (Pesta Budaya Asmat). Photograph by Julie Risser, October 2009