Malagan Figure, New Ireland
Wood, lime, red ochre, black pigment, shells, adhesive putty
height 46 1/2in (118cm)
Norman Hurst Gallery, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Private Collection, Massachusetts
According to Gunn (2006: p. 222), "The human figure is the basic unit of malagan sculpture. However, on Tabar at least, a sculptural image that looks like a human is most probably not a portrait of someone. It is rather an inherited malagan image used to honor a person who has died...
...It is not clear why some animals are depicted in the art of northern New Ireland, and why others are not. Fish, birds, and snakes form a large part of the repertoire, several varieties of lizard are also shown, as is the occasional octopus. But dogs, sharks, and crocodiles are all missing from the iconography, as are images of non-New Irelanders, including Westerners. Flying fish are probably the most commonly depicted animal, for almost every malagan sculpture of a human figure has a flying fish held in front of the body, biting the chin of the main figure. Several malagan specialists told us that the flying fish represents the speech of a leader, traveling far."