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Spirits and Headhunters

WEB-EXCLUSIVE: Ponder the magical at Bowers Museum's exhibit dedicated to the art of the Pacific Islands.

Amulet (Hei Tiki), nephrite and sealing wax, 18th century, New Zealand, Polynesia/Photo Courtesy of Bowers Museum

Spirits and Headhunters:
Art of the Pacific Islands

Through December 31, 2010
2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana
Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Price: Adults, $12; seniors,
students and children, $9
:: bowers.org

Walking around Bowers Museum’s new exhibit, I actually consider the possibility of ending this visit cursed.

Especially when I approach an evil-looking, clown-like statue that appears to gaze at me from behind a glass case. I shudder and instinctively step backward, away from his outstretched arms.

The Spirits and Headhunters exhibit is a tribute to Pacific Island culture, sorcery and magic. Each piece is more than just interesting artwork: it has played a part in the region’s sacred rituals. There are over 200 works ranging in size from miniature to monumental, including the 15-foot “Nggwal Carving” -- a wooden totem with elaborate carvings of animals, spirit beings and clan ancestors.

Other pieces include human tooth necklaces, a collection of large-eyed fire dance masks, wooden nose ornaments, and sculptures of spirits. Photographs of indigenous people are displayed throughout while sounds of the rainforest play overhead, bringing the exhibit to life.

On my way out, I revisit the “Flute Stopper,” an intimidating statue representing the mother crocodile spirit, Asin. It was made by the Biwat people, a tribe known for their cannibalism and achievements as warriors. Cannibalism? Crocodile spirits? I look at the date and am shocked to find out that the statue is contemporary. Apparently, the supernatural is a topic that any culture at any time can relate to.

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