Speaking for itself: Art, meaning and power in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea



Taking the example of the tubuan masked figure, an art form of New Ireland, I explore recent theoretical debates on the question of meaning in art. Challenging approaches that privilege the semiotic, I argue that this form of art is more appropriately seen as a revelation of power. The tubuan brings forth the concealed efficacy, capacities and intentionality of the producer, which elicit responses from, or act upon, the audience in various negative or positive ways. This art object is a form of disclosure in itself, and thus speaks for itself. The appreciation of this art is not a matter of cerebral contemplation, the unearthing of ideas and the translation of images into verbal form, but in an embodied form that is experienced directly as affect. I take seriously the embodied nature of social action, of which the production of art is one form.