Malekula Island, New Hebrides (Vanuatu), Melanesia, circa 1900
Wood, human skull, clay, spider-web, pigments, bark
Height : 186 cm
Provenance : Ex. Comte Baudouin de Grunne collection
Bernard de Grunne, Bruxelles
This spectacular life-size funerary figure is called rambaramp in the New Hebrides archipelago.
The skull of the dead was considered as the central component of the rambaramp. After death, the skull was removed, modeled over with clay, and attached to a surrogate body created out of bamboo, clay, and plant fibers. Although there is debate over whether the rambaramp was intended to be a physical likeness of the individual, people in the community would have recognized the identity of the figure through patterns painted on the skull and body. These patterns were associated with the status of the deceased. Rambaramp were created only for men and only for those of the highest rank, usually chiefs or warriors.
Once completed, the rambaramp would be set up in the men’s house. By offering a place for the spirit to reside, the figure facilitated the continuing presence of the ancestor, who would, in turn, ensure the well-being of the community. Because they were made largely of vegetal materials, the bodies of the rambaramp would eventually decay. However, the skull—the most vital part of the figure—would continue to serve as a representative of the ancestor long after the body was gone.
With its hieratic presence and haunting gaze, the above superlative example is without a doubt the representation of a man of the highest rank, and imposing stature. The head is particularly expressive; magnificently modeled and enhanced with laundry blue pigments and ochre red, it is topped with a full spider-web headdress. The bluing tablets were introduced in Melanesia by the Europeans in the last quarter of the 19th century, and they remained popular with the indigenous islanders till the end of the German and British colonial settlements in the South Seas.
The subtle chromatic palette of the figure, with hues of pink and ochre constrasting with darker bands and lines, reminds certain canvases of Rothko or Barnett Newman; and gives an universal -and almost contemporary- force of attraction to this superb work of art.
Price : on request