The UCLA Fowler Museum’s “Second Skins: Painted Barkcloth from New Guinea and Central Africa” presents a new paradigm for what was once called ethnographic art: the group show. The New Guinea half of the exhibition displays the work of 15 artists, all women of the Ömie tribe, along with biographies and commentaries. With less than 2000 people, the Ömie must have a higher exhibiting-artist-to-population ratio than Silverlake or Brooklyn. (At top, Ivy-Rose Sirimi’s The forbidden tree of Lawe’s parotia. Ömie mountains, and beaks of Blyth’s hornbill, 2009.)

Painted barkcloths were originally clothing, to be worn and discarded. Many of the designs draw on tattooing (in New Guinea) or skin painting (in the Ituri rainforest of Central Africa). The African side of the show fits a more familiar template. Ituri cloths (one example at left) have been prized and collected by big-name Western artists—including Brice Marden and Terry Winters—yet most of the names of the Ituri artists are lost.

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William Poundstone
Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

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