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Portrait of Anthony Forge.
Portrait of Anthony Forge in Kamasan, Bali, August 1973. From Forge's documentation on Balinese art research. Image: Jane Forge
© Jane Forge

It is a truism that art communicates, but what does it communicate? Here the philosophers and historians, and indeed all students of art, seem to become evasive, trivial or unintelligible, and no doubt I shall be the same, yet this is the question which must be attempted (Forge 1979: 280).

Forge (1929-1991) was born in London. He studied archaeology and anthropology under prominent anthropologist Edmund Leach at Cambridge University, graduating in 1953. As a student, Forge had examined the extensive collection from the Sepik region of Papua New Guinea, housed at the Haddon Museum at Cambridge, now the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Study of this collection, assembled by anthropologist Gregory Bateson, probably influenced Forge’s future interests. He later photographed part of the Bateson collection. His photographs are now held in the Goldwater Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Forge worked for three years in the printing business before undertaking further studies at the London School of Economics. There he developed a long-lasting friendship with Sir Raymond Firth, the ‘father’ of British economic anthropology.

Between 1958 and 1963 Forge undertook research on Abelam people of the Sepic region of Papua New Guinea, focusing on social organisation, aesthetics and ritual. In 1960 he become a research officer and a year later Assistant Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics. In 1969 he was a Visiting Professor at Yale University, USA, and in 1970 was appointed Senior Lecturer at the London School of Economics.

By the early 1970s Forge was recognised as an authority in the field of visual anthropology. His two periods of fieldwork in Papua New Guinea resulted in a number of essays about Sepik art as well as extensive documentations and collections of artefacts from the Abelam culture. These collections are kept, predominantly, at the Museum of Ethnography in Basel, Switzerland, and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, UK. In 1974 Forge was appointed Professor of Anthropology at the Australian National University in Canberra, where he remained until his death in 1991.

Selected Publications:

Forge, A. (1960). Notes on Eastern Abelam Designs Painted on Paper. Three Regions of Melanesian Art; New York, Museum of Primitive Art.

Forge, A. (1967). The Abelam Artist. Social Organization: Essays Presented to Raymond Firth; M. Freedman; London, Cass: 65-84.

Forge, A. (1970). Learning to See in New Guinea. Socialization: The Approach from Social Anthropology. P. Mayer; New York, Tavistock: 269-92.

Forge, A. (1972). Tswamung: A Failed Big-Man. Crossing Cultural Boundaries: The Anthropological Experience, S. T. Kimball and J. B. Watson. San Francisco; Chandler Publishing Company.

Forge, A, (1973). Primitive Art & Society. London, New York, Oxford University Press; for the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Forge, A. (1978). Balinese traditional paintings: a selection from the Forge Collection of the Australian Museum, Sydney. Sydney, Australian Museum.

Forge, A. (1978). A Village in Bali. Face Values: Some Anthropological Themes; A. Sutherland, London, British Broadcasting Corporation.