Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Funerary Figure (Kulap)

Date:
late 19th–early 20th century
Geography:
Papua New Guinea, New Ireland, Namatanai village
Culture:
Southern New Ireland
Medium:
Chalk, paint
Dimensions:
H. 9 x W. 3 1/4 x D. 3 1/2 in. (22.9 x 8.3 x 8.9 cm)
Classification:
Stone-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1960
Accession Number:
1978.412.754
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
Kulap figures represent individuals who had died recently. They were
distinctive to southern New Ireland, and used throughout the region, they
were created by specialists living near the limestone quarries in the Rossel
Mountains. When a family member died, a male relative journeyed to the
mountains and acquired a male or female kulap, depending on the sex of
the deceased. After he returned home, the figure was erected, together with
other kulap, within a shrine inside a ceremonial building surrounded by an
enclosure. Kulap served as temporary abodes for the spirits of the dead,
which might otherwise wander, causing harm to the living. Only men could
view the images, but women often gathered outside the compound to
mourn their lost relatives. After an appropriate period of time, the figures
were destroyed.
[Watson O'Dell Pierce, Archaeological Artifacts & Antiques, New York, until 1960]; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1960–1978

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