Late 19th century. New Ireland, Papua New Guinea
Donated by Professor Sidgwick, MAA 1890.177
A wooden funerary figure composed of carved and painted interlocking images with snail shell eyes. Malangan sculptures are part of a rich and varied ceremonial complex for commemorating and regulating the dead. Specialist carvers produce them from memory several years after the death of
the person they recall. The form and design of malangan temporarily recapture the salient aspects of an individualís life and are influenced by the rights of individuals and clans over particular motifs.
A malangan can be seen as a second skin, a porous membrane that first contains and then releases the life force of the deceased after a long period of mourning. Alongside the model of the double helix, the malangan sculpture draws attention to its ability to mark the particular characteristics of a person and then to distribute their life force to their descendants.
Malangan sculpture has had a significant impact on the ways that bodies are envisaged in both anthropology and modern European art. Originally intended to be destroyed after ritual use, their removal through sale to outsiders has been considered by New Irelanders as an appropriate (and profitable) means of disposal. New forms of malangan continue to be produced today, highlighting the transformative potential of the human body.