By Krisztina Turza, TurzaArt Tribal Gallery
A short and subjective review of this year’s Parcours des Mondes. Short, because it will only focus on the art items via the many photographs enclosed, as opposed to going through the usual ‘Paris stuff’ and the general socio-economics (yes, generally tourists were better off this year on the Aussie dollars due to the slightly declining tourist hordes after the Paris attacks resulting in relatively cheaper prices, and yes, there were riot police present at most of the tourist sites, as a constant reminder on the tragic events of last year). It will be subjective, as the items selected for this review reflect on my own current state of mind and interest.
Well, there was so much beauty, class and style. As usual, I focused on those galleries that displayed Oceanic art (not quite sure how one can absorb almost 80 galleries worth of displays at any given time). I also had to cut my Paris stay short and travel back to Switzerland on the second day to catch my flight back to sunny Brisbane. For me, this year’s ‘love affair’ came in the form of Hopi kachina dolls, with their simple yet slightly elaborate styles. Donald Ellis Gallery, Michael Evans and Galerie Flak were amongst the exhibitors whose kachina dolls caught my eyes. Hopi means ‘a person who behaves in a polite or peaceful way’ and there are about 9000 Hopi living in reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. The word ‘kachina’ has long been used by outsiders to refer to any of the hundreds of spiritual beings central to Hopi religious life as well as to the dolls that depict these spiritual beings.
The first year during which kachina dolls were recorded to be traded was 1857, then sporadically until about the end of the 19th century. Little is known about these dolls except that they were basically simple in style, with slightly detailed masks and simplified bodies. They were initially carved from one piece but nowadays arms, legs and headpiece, or the head, may be carved separately only to be joined together at the end of the process. The masks are the most important part of the doll as it is the feature that truly identifies the kachina persona. Although kachina dolls are often given to Hopi children, they are not considered toys as the real spirit of tihu is said to be found within, and therefore kachina dolls are representations of benevolent spirit beings, which live among the Hopi for the period of six months each year. They are spiritual rain messengers that bring special blessings.
To my delight, there were two galleries, Galerie Meyer and Galerie Franck Marcelin in particular, that displayed superb Massim art on a massive scale. These two galleries showcased rare and precious Massim artefacts such as lime spatulas, canoe prows, shields and other ornaments. Part of the collection displayed by Galerie Marcelin’s was field collected by Harry Beran between 1969 and 1983, then became part of Marcia and John Friede’s Jolika collection, and includes great splashboards (lagim), wave splitters (tibkusikus), canoe paddles, fishing net floats, and canoe sail hoisters (kuk) as part of the kula canoe theme, as well as various shell ornaments, drums (katunenia), sorcerer’s staffs, walking sticks, dance paddles (kaidebu) used in the annual harvest festival entitled milamala, and a beautiful carved figure from the Normanby Island. And then of course there were the shell-disk holders: so many of them and so attractive, some of them from whale bone and some from turtle shell.
There were many galleries including but not limited to Galerie Flak, Martin Doustar, Wayne Heathcote, Michael Hamson, Kevin Conru, Chris Boylan, Hunt Fine Arts, and of course, Serge Schoffel, which displayed superb pieces from the Sepik region. Out of these, I admired Serge Schoffel’s clever exhibition on the rare Urama, Era and Ramu river Gope boards, as it had the look & feel of a truly high quality museum exhibition. I very much enjoyed the beautifully colourful highlands shields that Chris Boylan had on offer. Also, visiting Martin Doustar’s exhibitions always gives me a thrill as something great can always always anticipated coming from this young gallerist, and this year was no exception. I loved the carefully selected Indonesian pieces (a rare korwar for instance) mingling with the Mesoamerican section. Talking of Indonesian, what a joy it was to inspect Thomas Murray’s gorgeous Batak chief staffs including a rare Malehat one (out of 3, the 2 Panaluan staffs were already sold on day one). His reliable and unique selection is always a must for me.
Thank God for the Malangan pieces that many galleries displayed, notably Entwistle (with a rare pig head – wow, I haven’t seen anything like it), Galerie Flak, Galerie Schoffel de Fabry, Kevin Conru and many others. There were strong Marquesas pieces by Conru, Galerie Flak, Serge Schoffel and Voyageurs & Curieux as well as impressive Maori pieces by, among others, Wayne Heathcote and Conru.
This year’s Parcours will also be memorable for a personal reason, as I took my Mother to Paris with me to show her the greatest of the great when it comes to tribal art and enjoyed some time together in the ‘city of light’.