I came across Malangan sculpture in the excellent book Museum of the Mind by John Mack, long standing director of the British Museum (Mack 2003, p.105).They are ritual objects made by the people from the north coast of New Ireland, an island in Papua New Guinea.
The intricate carvings are only used once in a funeral rite and then discarded. This captured me. Why would the artist spend so much time creating these beautiful pieces just to be used once and then destroyed?
Looking at the objects it becomes clear that there is always a figure locked in a cage like structure. This structure can be made of different things- often monsters, tusks, fish, snakes – a variety of items confining the figure. As if forcing it up, this is a cage with only one way out. The figure itself can be fearsome sometimes.
There is a sense of coercion in this item. The animals and patterns that make up the cage are related to the family – clan the deceased belonged to. It is as if the traditional signs are forcing the deceased to behave in a particular way – leave.
The idea of traditional patterns coercing (people-us) into desired behaviour was starting to form then. The use of symbols/rituals as a way of establishing power relationship is very interesting and a good starting point for my next art work.
I am currently working on little sculpture of a woman, cast in resin, sitting in a cage of paisley patterns which are carved in wood. This is a traditional, domestic enclosure. I am trying to capture the claustrophobic aspect of this.
The British Museum, “Malagan at the British Museum,” in Smarthistory, March 1, 2017, accessed December 9, 2017, https://smarthistory.org/malangan/.
MACK JOHN, 2003. The Museum of the Mind. The British Museum Press