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''Second Skins''
at Fowler Museum at UCLA, West Los Angeles, California
Recommendation by Scarlet Cheng


Continuing through August 26, 2012

"Second Skins: Painted Barkcloth From New Guinea and Central Africa” highlights a traditional practice in two far-flung cultures - the Mbuti of the Ituri rainforest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Ömie of Mount Lamington in Papua New Guinea. Both are known for designs hand-painted on sheets of beaten tree bark. Generally, these beautiful and sometimes intricate designs are abstract or highly stylized, although they may refer to things in the environment, such as vines, spider webs and features of the landscape. 


"Second Skins" is split into two parts, and the Ömie section identifies individual artisans, all women. The Mbuti works are older, and were sold to European and American collectors via traders, so no names are attached to them. The Ömie were organized into a cooperative in 2004, and the 21 Ömie represented here are known for their own patterns, which are handed down from generation to generation. Vivian Marumi, for example, specializes in a dense net of climbing vines with thorns. Mary Naumo has conflated land and sky in her  "Snail Shells, Ömie Mountains and Stars" - a painting dominated by a series of circles on a square barkcloth which has a painted zigzag border. The Omie works are really the more striking, and not only because artist names are attached, it's because you can sense the visceral connection of land and place. While most images are non-narrative, Lila Warrimou, paramount chief of the Ömie Women, has created exceptions.  In one she shows how the human origin story is intertwined with the barkcloth origin story. The first man and first woman stand atop Mount Obo, and trees from which she later made barkcloth grows from the mountainside.


Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2012

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