The American Museum of Asmat Art (AMAA) is an integral part of the University of St. Thomas. It is dedicated to the art and culture of the Asmat people, who live on the southwest coast of the island of New Guinea, which is situated directly north of Australia in the southwest Pacific Ocean.
The AMAA has the largest collection of Asmat art in the country, with more than 2,000 objects. Most of the works date from the mid 20th century to the present. The collection originally was formed by missionaries from the Crosier Fathers and Brothers, a Catholic religious Order, who worked in the Asmat region beginning in 1958. The museum had two previous homes in Hastings, Nebraska and Shoreview, Minnesota. In 2007, the Crosiers, wishing to place the collection in a setting where it would be used to educate students and the public about Asmat art and culture, gave it to the University of St. Thomas. The Gallery in the Anderson Student Center opened in 2012.
The Gallery presents regularly changing exhibitions on different aspects of Asmat art and culture using works drawn from the collection. The museum’s collection continues to grow and the AMAA forms an integral part of the university’s broader commitment to fostering respect and appreciation for cultural diversity and the artistic achievements of all of humanity and of the Department of Art History’s dedication to teaching global arts in context.
The Asmat are widely renowned as among the finest and most prolific wood sculptors in the Pacific Islands. In addition to wood, Asmat artists work in a rich variety of other materials including fiber, feathers, bone, and shell, drawn from the rivers on whose banks they live and the tropical rainforests that surround their villages. Much of Asmat sculpture, like the towering ancestor poles (bis) and soul canoe (wuramon) on view in the Gallery, originally was created for use in religious ceremonies. Many of these rites, in whole or in part, honored individuals in the community who had recently died and helped to send their spirits onward to safan, the land of the ancestors. Today, contemporary Asmat artists also create innovative forms of sculpture and other works for the global art market.