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Fly Whisk (Tahiri ?)

Date:
early to mid-19th century
Geography:
French Polynesia, Austral Islands
Culture:
Austral Islanders
Medium:
Wood, fiber, human hair
Dimensions:
W. 5 1/8 x L. 32 in. (13 x 81.3 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Implements
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.206.1487
  • Description

    Artists of the Austral Islands created delicate fly whisks with handles
    adorned with stylized human figures that likely portray ancestors or other
    supernatural beings. This work depicts two highly stylized male figures
    who share a single teardrop-shaped body. The peg-like projections on the
    foreheads likely represent the ornamental topknots of hair formerly worn by
    Austral Islands men. Such finely crafted fly whisks, although functional, likely
    also served as symbols of chiefly status. Tipped with brush-like bundles of
    fiber, they may have been used, like ordinary fly whisks, to keep insects from
    alighting on food, humans, or objects. However, the brush at times includes
    pieces of shell that rattle when in use, and it is possible the objects were
    ceremonial rattles, employed to clear supernatural rather than physical
    impurities from sacred people or places.

  • Provenance

    [Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1958]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1958, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, 1958–1978

  • See also
    What
    Where
    When
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
    MetPublications
313676:3

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