Protection, Power and Display:
Shields of Island Southeast Asia and Melanesia

October 6–December 10, 1995


Curated by Andrew Tavarelli, Boston College Fine Arts Department

Protection, Power and Display is the first major exhibition to focus on the tribal shield as both a significant artistic form as well as a source of ethnographic information. A tribal shield is the repository of the forces generated at the intersection of the social, spiritual,ceremonial and aesthetic. Shields offer us an unique keyhole through which we can glimpse the rich and varied indigenoussocieties that produced them. The comparative, multicultural approach to the exhibit will articulate the similarities and differences in the visual traditions of the Pacific Basin cultures as manifested through the shield form.

As an object, the shield is visually captivating and embedded in the culture of the maker. Although indigenous craftsmen and artists placed a great emphasis on the aesthetics and craft as well as the functions and symbolic meanings involved in the production of shields, they are generally treated as weapons when they appear in exhibitions in western culture. Protection, Power and Display exhibits approximately sixty shields from Indonesia, the Philippines and Melanesia and will emphasize their extraordinary visual power. The exhibition will investigate the meanings which extend these works beyond their role as defensive weapons. Protection, Power and Display will make a significant contribution to our understanding of the shield form by incorporating the shield into the canon of art historical investigation.

Protection, Power and Display focuses on the shields of Indonesia, the Philippines and Melanesia and will present sixty of the finest examples available. The works, which date from the nineteenth through the early-twentieth centuries, were made for use in either combat or ceremony within the tribal cultures. These works have been selected from public and private collections in the United States. The majority of the shields have never been exhibited. The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to celebrate and appreciate aspects of these visual cultures present in societies which are undergoing rapid transformation.

The catalogue reproduces the shields in black and white and color photography, with accompanying texts by scholars of anthropology, art history and ethnography. It will be the first major document of this material which both provides an opportunity to ask new questions and heightens the public's appreciation of these splendid yet previously understudied objects.


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