Painted barkcloth, decorated with rhombic patterns and three dragen-like animals


Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
Amsterdam, Netherlands

In the Sentani Lake region, maros were originally worn by women as loincloths. At least they wore them on special occasions. What makes this cloth unusual is its small format. Perhaps it was never actually worn as a loincloth. It may have been made specifically for European traders. It was in the 1930s that European art-lovers began to appreciate objects made in New Guinea. Maros were exhibited at shows in Batavia (today’s Jakarta) and Paris. That opened up a market for these cloths. It is possible that this small example was made especially for Western buyers.

Market forces
Contact with Europeans probably also led to a change in outward style of maros. Researchers have discovered that before Europeans arrived, these cloths were probably decorated in quite a different way. The ornamentation consisted far more of the kind of linear scrolling that appears on other objects from the region. It is quite likely that it was the European preference for figurative designs that led makers to portray snakes and lizards on their maros. Since we have no sources for the preceding period, these assumptions are difficult to prove.

Maro and Miró
One European artist was certainly inspired by the maros of Sentani Lake: Spanish painter Joan Miró. He learned about these cloths through French art dealer Jacques Viot. Viot had been in the Sentani Lake region in the late 1920s to buy items for sale in Europe, including several maros.

circa 113 x 81,5cm (44 1/2 x 32 1/16in.)

Source: collectie.tropenmuseum.nl

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  • Title: Painted barkcloth, decorated with rhombic patterns and three dragen-like animals
  • Date: 1/1953
  • Location: Humboldt-bay