The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Not on view
Spectacular and ephemeral, the malagan carvings of northern New Ireland are among the most intricate sculptures in Oceania. The term malagan refers collectively to a complex series of ceremonies and the visual art forms associated with them. Various malagan rites mark nearly all important stages of an individual’s life; the largest and most impressive malagan carvings are displayed during the final memorial ceremony for the deceased. Throughout life, individuals seek to acquire rights, similar to Western copyrights, to specific malagan images and the rituals associated with them. Men, in particular, compete to obtain rights to the greatest number of malagan, possession of which confers status and prestige. At a person’s death, some malagan, including the raised horizontal bird friezes seen here, are carved for the initial funerary ceremonies. However, the most numerous and spectacular carvings are created and displayed during the final ceremony to commemorate the deceased, which often occurs months or years after death. The carvings essentially constitute a visual resume of the deceased’s lifetime achievements in obtaining malagan rites. The human and animal images in the carvings depict supernatural beings associated with specific clans; each image represents a different manifestation of the single life-giving force that sustains the clan. Performance of the final malagan rites frees the living from their obligations to the dead. Having served their purpose, the malagan carvings are destroyed, allowed to rot, or sold to outsiders.
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1952]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1952, on loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1978
Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 56.
Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 95, 159-61.