Important Ancestor Figure
Iatmul region, Middle Sepik, Papua New Guinea, 19th century
Height : 133 cm
Provenance : Private collection, Australia (acquired circa 1960) Private collection, Paris
The art of the Sawos, Iatmul, and neighboring peoples in the Middle Sepik region of northeastern New Guinea is primarily associated with their impressive men’s ceremonial houses, which are seen as the embodiments of primordial female ancestors. Standing at the center of the village, the famous ngeko ceremonial houses act as the keeping place of ritual objects essential to the wellbeing of the community. Each of its posts is elaborately carved from exceptionally heavy ironwood. According to oral history, when the central pillars of a new ceremonial house were to be erected, recently acquired human heads were placed in the post-hole as a way to ensure the building’s spiritual power.
This menacing female figure of impressive scale and weight was carved in a solid trunk of dense ironwood, slowly eroded by the elements over time. Once part of the architectural structure of a ceremonial house, it was probably adorning a house post - from which it was detached thereafter, as suggested by the slick cut on the back of the figure.
The face shows characteristic features associated with the crocodile ancestor, and reminds certain masks encountered among the Iatmul, and in the lakes region. The surface is extremely weathered yet reveals a beautiful range of colors, from dry grey to smooth red. Despite a missing arm - actually it probably even enhances this impression - an archaic strength and commanding presence emanate from this rare ancestral figure.
Price : on request