House door (oromatan)

Attributed to

Alfonsius Seran ( 1850 - 1950 )

Tetun peoples
c. 1915
more object details

General Description

This pivot-style wooden door is adorned with the carved image of a female with a small head, minimal features, and a rotund body displaying prominent breasts. She stands with her arms akimbo (hands on hips, elbows out) and her feet apart. Framing her smooth form are incised, geometricized spirals which create a lively optical effect. The figure and dynamic composition project feminine reproductive power and strength.

The door was originally installed in a great thatched communal house belonging to an aristocratic, matrilineal Tetun clan. Such residences were usually embellished with painted walls, elaborately carved wall panels, and doors. The floorplan reflected Tetun notions of the cosmos which held that humans lived on earth between the upper world and the underworld. The rear of the house was viewed as the women’s domain and symbolized the sacred underworld where the birth ritual re-enacted that of the first human beings. Following the birth, a father carried his infant through the “female door” to the upper world, which was a predominantly male outer world. This door served as a material symbol, a point of interface, between the two halves of the cosmos.

Excerpt from

  • Roslyn Walker, Label text, 2013.