Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Eric Kjellgren

Second Advisor

Heather M. Shirey

Third Advisor

William L. Barnes

Fourth Advisor

Nick Stanley


In 1973, the American artist and anthropologist Tobias Schneebaum (1922-2005)
arrived in Asmat looking for a culture untouched by the West, which would allow for
his homosexuality while fulfilling his desire for acceptance. Schneebaum’s
aspiration to stay in the area eventually led him to work for the Asmat Museum of
Culture and Progress (AMCP). Through this connection, Schneebaum had access to
valuable trade goods, which he then used to initiate the revival of what he
considered traditional art and cultural activities.

Over the next ten years, Schneebaum went on collecting trips with Crosier
missionaries, cataloged objects at the AMCP, and engaged in sexual relationships
with indigenous men. These experiences allowed Schneebaum to gain a
comprehensive understanding of Asmat art that went beyond the formal and
contextual level to included aspects of regional ideology. This played into his
notions of authenticity and consequently affected the types of objects he
commissioned for the AMCP. One such commission, the Jamasj wuramon now on
permanent display at the American Museum of Asmat Art (AMAA), is used in this
paper as a case study. The acquisition and documentation of this carving illustrates
how Schneebaum used a range of knowledge to acquire works that satisfied his
personal aim to engage with the “uncivilized” aspects of Asmat society, which
consequently contributed to the diverse collections now owned by museums such as
the AMCP and AMAA.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.