Appreciating and Admiring Oceanic and Arctic Circle Art Virtually – Jacques Chirac. On a Thursday I visited my friend’s niece. Gisèle, at an art gallery. The gallery is a stone’s throw away from the National School of Fine Arts (École des Beaux Arts) in the Saint-Germain des Près quarter. It was the first Thursday of the month, and coincidentally a virtual live-streaming tour of the exhibition was about to begin. I was one of two live guests at a full exhibition tour of Oceanic and Eskimo (Arctic Circle) Art.
During non-pandemic times, you can stop in at Galerie Meyer and ask questions about the exhibits . During pandemic times, virtual live-streaming and catching up on YouTube are the best shows in town! The video tours at Galerie Meyer are usually 2-4 minutes long.
Appreciating and Admiring
By staying those few extra minutes, I learned about ancient art, finely-crafted miniature art pieces and symbolism from the Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz Islands, Bismarck Archipelagos and Arctic Art. More than an art tour, I left with geographical and historical knowledge and admiring details I would have passed by in a large museum.
On that Thursday I learned about a currency belt, the tevau, made of banana fiber covered with thousands of red honey-eater bird feathers. Until the 1980s this belt was given in payment to a woman’s family as bridal currency or to buy canoes and pigs. The coil made exclusively on one island, Nendo in the Noipë village.
Another object with a detailed story is the ceremonial paddle with the carved Janus ancestor head and the sea-spirit blade. Anthony Meyer, the owner of the gallery, provides a great description of the sea-spirit represented on the paddle (details later in the story). The decorative paddle is ceremonial and not for paddling a boat. Information from the 1890s details that they were ceremonial wands, a walking weapon or used as a dancing stick.
The Latest Collection
The latest collection for this month’s first Thursday was equally exciting. The provenance of the Arctic Circle objects ranges from Alaska’s west coast to Siberia. The first object shown on the tour is also the oldest. The carved, seated, frowning woman is over 2,000 years old. Another historical object is a smiling iinruq, a Shaman’s amulet. This heavily tattooed figurine is the Guardian of the Light. Historically, The US Navy commissioned the first ecological expedition on the Albatross in 1898-1899. The commanding officer, Admiral F. Moser, brought back this souvenir. Each of the art pieces in the display case are from Walrus tusk. The explanations of this tour are in English with Chinese subtitles and the details are mentioned in the YouTube description.
Story of the Janus Head Paddle
The images on the paddle are a picture story with
“leaping dolphins as his feet, a frigate-bird head as his tail, a fish skeleton as his inner body, large frigate-birds as his hands and from both elbows there are projections composed of fish-bodies. His head is the form of a whale with large fluked tail at the rear and the blowhole and air-spout on the top of the head. He seems to have an extended sex organ, which is probably why he was completely painted over.
This … rare image of the great sea-spirit … was until recently covered up with a thick coat of oil paint – probably a form of zealous Christian censorship from the British 19th century.”
Anthony’s master restorer, Brigitte Martin, was able to remove the oil paint without damaging the original patina and the underlying design and with great pleasure presented him with his first view of the Sea-Spirit; banished by prudes for so many years !
If you are in Paris, I recommend pushing the door of an art gallery. And if you are waiting to come to Paris, take a virtual art gallery tour and enjoy.
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