Lot 110
  • 110

Frieze for Malagan Ceremony, New Ireland

12,000 - 18,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • wood
  • Length: 78 5/8 in (199.7 cm)


American Private Collection
Bonhams, London, July 3, 1990, lot 139, consigned by the above
Lynda Cunningham, New York, acquired at the above auction

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. 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." (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 present architectural element, composed of birds, fish, and abstract geometry, are crucial to the successful realization of these events. Colorful and elaborate in nature, these figures may depict animals and other creatures with the anthropomorphic being. 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" (Ibid.).