Lot 10
  • 10

Figure for Malagan, New Ireland

40,000 - 60,000 USD
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  • wood
  • Height: 38 in (96.5 cm)


John J. Klejman, New York
Arthur Cohen & Elaine Lustig Cohen, New York, acquired from the above on November 24, 1956


A. B. Meyer & W. Foy, Tanzobjekte vom Bismarck Archipel, Nissan und Buka, Dresden, 1900, pl. XIV, fig. 6

Catalogue Note

Highly anticipated and meticulously prepared for long periods of time, often over the course of years, malagan ceremonies are intricate and extensive affairs that are held in the name of one or more deceased members of a community. Although community members utilize the time for a multiplicity of enterprises and transactions, these occasions signal the culmination of the mourning period for the departed alongside a tightly choreographed and stylized sequence of music, song, gestures, and dancing. Peltier describes how 'This ultimate exhibition is designed, according to a common expression in New Ireland, to 'finish the dead man,' to efface him from the world of the living by sending his soul into the spirit world. But it is not merely a farewell. It is a matter of controlling the "soul" or rather the "vital force" of the dead man in order to pass it on to the next generation. This vital force allows the clans to live and reproduce themselves from generation to generation. "Finishing the dead man" means picking up his energy, channeling it and sharing it out among the members of the clan. The aim is to tighten social bonds between the man or men who take the place of the dead man and the rest of the community.' (Gunn & Peltier, eds., New Ireland: Art of the South Pacific, 2006, p. 78)

As important as human actions are to these ceremonies, however, those inanimate images of malagan objects, such as the figure here, are integral to the successful realization of these events. Colorful and elaborate in nature, these figures may depict animals and other creatures with the anthropomorphic being; in this case, a bird perches on the man's head, and a flying fish biting the man's beard. On the ritual role of these figures, Peltier continues, 'The "images" play a decisive role in this redistribution process. They act as mediators between the worlds. Erected under leafy shelters which may attain a great height, they draw all eyes and dominate the surrounding area. They watch over the ceremony.'