An Indonesian motif, the squatting figure, the hocker and its influence on Australian aboriginal art

Dr. Andreas Lommel (†)

Regard this article as a contribution to the at present rather heated debate about foreign influences on Australian Aboriginal art, I select one motif and show its influence on Aboriginal art.

A typical motif of Indonesian art: the squatting figure, the so-called "Hocker", it comes in many, often surprising variations, some of them reach far into the Pacific Ocean and one or the other even reaches Australia. In this article I concentrate on those which reach Australia and leave aside those, as interesting they may be, which did not touch the shores of Australia.

The squatting figure, the Hocker, comes as round sculpture, as rock-painting, as painting, as relief, as line drawing, as ornament on shields. Sculptural representation of a squatting-figure motif covers a region extending from ancient China to Burma, southern Indochina, large portions of Indonesia and Melanesia, and the central Solomons. In the South Seas true squatting-figure images appear in a weaker form; the occur purer forms only in north-western America, sporadically in Central America, Colombia, Venezuela and the Aleutian Islands.

The prototype of the hocker in the roundsculpture occurs mainly in the Babbar, Tanimbar and Leti Islands in a clear, explicit and predominant form. The Leti figures are quite similar of those of upper Burma on the one hand and of western New Guinea on the other. In the Philippines the motif is found in northern Luzon both explicitly and in derivations; These figures, too, can be stylistically compared with those of eastern Indonesia and upper Burma. In western New Guinea squatting-figure images are widespread, as ancestors images or as skull holders. Dervatives of the squatting figures occurred here very early, including statues in the round having only a profile view (in the Mimika and Asmat region). Coarsened squatting figures occur in the region of the Sepik and Ramu, and in the decorative art of the Massim region in eastern New Guinea. A variant in which the drawn-up legs are turned backward is known of the island of Tami. On Choiseul, in the Solomon Islands, squatting figures in stone and wood are found, although not very frequently. Clear and definite squatting figures in the round do not occur in the rest of Polynesia, and reappear only in America, where, however, the motif is seldom so clearly depicted or worked out as in Southeast Asia and Indonesia.