Power and identity
In Oceania ancestors are a source of power and identity. They are commemorated in various forms of art. Subjects like history, remembrance, coping with loss and changes to the environment are also key elements in the work of contemporary artists.
Ancestors play an important role in Oceania. The major rituals associated with death are the most important moments of commemoration, marking an end to the mourning period, after which the community can resume normal daily life.
Masterpiece: ancestral altar
A group of ancestor figures from an altar, from West Papua, Indonesia, is one of the centrepieces of the exhibition. Some of the figures are dressed and decorated in red cotton, a popular commodity in the early 19th century. The figure with the human skull is a striking feature of this piece. Although displaying human remains is regarded as problematic in many parts of Oceania, it emerged in discussions with Papuan communities in the Netherlands and in West Papua that there are no objections to the respectful display of this important ancestor. Some even regard it as an honour that their ancestor is exhibited in this way.