The openwork malu boards of the Sawos people of New Guinea are perhaps the ultimate expression of the curvilinear style that characterizes the carving of the Middle Sepik River. Although created by the Sawos, malu are traded to the neighboring Iatmul people who use them in the context of the initiation ceremonies that mark the transition of boys to manhood. If a boy dies during the initiation process, the malu are displayed to the village women to indicate that a death has occurred. The complex imagery of these objects incorporates bird, mammal, and insect forms, many of which represent totemic species. The central face of this object depicts the heart of the sago beetle, a large insect. Four hornbills, important totemic birds, are incorporated into the openwork carving. The pig, an animal of great social and ritual significance throughout New Guinea, appears at the base.
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Title:Ceremonial Board (Malu)
Geography:Papua New Guinea, Middle Sepik River
Dimensions:H. 75 x W. 24 x D. 6 1/2 in. (190.5 x 61 x 16.5 cm)
Credit Line:The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1955]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1955, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1969; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978
Museum of Primitive Art. "Masterpieces from the South Seas in the Collection of the MOPA," May 19, 1965–October 3, 1965.
Fowler Museum at UCLA. "Ralph C. Altman Memorial Exhibition," April 7, 1968–June 7, 1968.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of Oceania, Africa and the Americas from The Museum of Primitive Art," May 10–August 17, 1969.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sculpture of Oceania," April 4–September 5, 1972.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of Oceania, Africa and the Americas," September 22, 1972–1974.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sculpture from the Pacific Islands," August 13, 1974–March 15, 1975.
Seattle Art Museum. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," January 5, 1975–February 16, 1975.
American Federation of Arts. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," January 5, 1975–May 15, 1977.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," March 23, 1975–May 4, 1975.
Dallas Museum of Art. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," June 8, 1975–July 20, 1975.
Art Institute of Chicago. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," August 25, 1975–October 10, 1975.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," November 9, 1975–December 21, 1975.
Toledo Museum of Art. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," April 11, 1976–May 25, 1976.
Walker Art Center. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," June 27, 1976–August 8, 1976.
Denver Art Museum. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," September 10, 1976–November 7, 1976.
de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," March 12, 1977–May 15, 1977.
Museum of Primitive Art. Masterpieces in the Museum of Primitive Art: Africa, Oceania, North America, Mexico, Central to South America, Peru. Handbook series. New York, NY: Museum of Primitive Art, 1965, no. 37.
Newton, Douglas. New Guinea Art in the Collection of the Museum of Primitive Art. Handbook (Museum of Primitive Art), Vol. Handbook No. 2. New York: Museum of Primitive Art, 1967, no. 52.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 158.
American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 132.
Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 102.
Gathercole, P., Adrienne L. Kaeppler, and Douglas Newton. The Art of the Pacific Islands. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1979, p. 324, no. 22.50.
Smidt, Dirk A.M. Sculptuur uit Afrika en Oceanië: een keuze uit de collecties van leden van de Vereniging Vrienden van Ethnografica. Otterlo: Kröller-Müller Museum, 1990–1991, p. 256, nos. 98.
Friede, John A. New Guinea Art: Masterpieces from the Jolika Collection of Marcia and John Friede. Vol. vol. 2. San Francisco: de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2005, p. 119, no. 230.
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, pp. 71–72, no. 34.
Kjellgren, Eric. "The Pacific Resurfaces: New Galleries for Oceanic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Tribal Art (Winter 2007–2008), pp. 106–107.
Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 34–35.
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