Art of the Solomon Islands and other
Works of Art from the Pacific Islands
Galerie Meyer -‐ Oceanic Art
Galerie Meyer -‐ Oceanic Art TEFAF - The European Fine Art Fair - Maastricht - Stand 433
Art of the Solomon Islands
Works of Art from the Pacific Islands
A N T H O N Y J P M E Y E R
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T he S o lo m o n Isl ands In 1568 the Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana de Neyra, the 25-year-old nephew of the Governor of Peru became the first European to reach the Archipelago of the Solomon Islands situated to the East of Papua New Guinea. Using the island of Santa Isabel as his base, named in honor of the expedition's Patron Saint, Mendana de Neyra spent several months exploring the various islands, fending off hostile natives and trying unsuccessfully to establish a settlement. Sailing back to Peru in 1569, the officers and sailors of the expedition spread the rumor of gold in those Pacific isles, creating the legend that this was the long lost land of Ophir, from which King Solomon drew his wealth, and in particular the precious metal which decorated the Temple of Jerusalem. More likely, the men were probably impressed by the glitter of iron pyrites used for the heads of the short ceremonial clubs called wari i hau. Thus the archipelago became known as the “Solomon Islands”. The islands were then forgotten for two centuries, until the British navigator Philip Carteret arrived in 1767, followed by the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville in 1768. The first missionaries, preceded by whalers, slavers and sandalwood traders, arrived in the 1850’s. "First contact" was difficult as the "ruthless and cruel reputation" of the headhunting inhabitants was confirmed over and over again. Geographically from North to South the main islands of the Solomons are : Buka and Bougainville (today part of Papua New Guinea), Choiseul, Vella Lavella, New Georgia, Santa Isabel, the Florida Islands, Malaita, Guadalcanal (famous for the bloody battle of 1942), San Cristobal and further south east the Santa Cruz Group where the ships of the French expedition of La Pérouse – La Boussole and L’Astrolabe – sank in 1788. The art of the Solomon Islands can be distinguished from the other Pacific styles by its refinement and originality. It has a singularity, which springs from the close relations maintained by the insular people with the sea, a major source of inspiration. Bonito (a type of tuna), shark, the frigate bird and various sea creatures form an essential part of the iconography associated with the human figure. With aspect and function often linked, the art of the Solomon Islands is homogenous – even though each island has its own specificities – and is characterized by a certain sobriety as well as the use of black pigment which covers the figures, bowls and canoe ornaments, generally embellished with inlaid segments of shell and mother-of-pearl.
The collection offered here is large enough for the art of this area to be almost fully represented. From a spiritual point of view, the cult of the ancestor is dominant, involving sophisticated funerary rituals, in particular the preservation of skulls of important chiefs. The daily life of the Solomon Islanders was governed by their belief in the existence of spirits called tindalo. Among the outstanding pieces presented here is a singular tindalo from the Florida Islands, composed of a Janus head with a skullcap, one of the two faces showing concentric scarifications. This tindalo was designed to embody the soul of an important man and retain his mana – a type of power. These sacred objects were a kind of intermediary between the present and the past through which the living addressed requests to ancestor spirits and tried to obtain their assistance, energy and power. Other tindalo were associated with war, fishing or agriculture. Like in most oceanic societies, initiation rituals occupied a central place in the Solomons, as illustrated by the spectacular initiates hat from the islands of Bougainville and Buka worn by young men during their year-long training and trials towards adulthood. Initiation rituals, ancestor cults, fishing, planting and harvesting all provided opportunities for ceremonies and large feasts where chiefs wore and used objects symbolizing their status and power like the Bougainville chiefly staff decorated with twin figures and a finely braided sheath of red and yellow orchid root. It was once the property of Konietzko, the famed dealer and collector in Hamburg. During celebrations, on Santa Ana, dancers brandished special wands or staffs. The curved blade of the remarkable dance club, brought back by the La Korrigane Expedition in 1936, shows the body of a swimming dolphin (or bonito) griping the shaft in its mouth and chasing a second smaller leaping mammal. While masks do not really exist in the Solomons, with the exceptions of Nisan and Buka islands, anthropomorphic representations totally dominate the art of the entire archipelago. The ancestor figure embodies a protective spirit. Here this powerfully carved blackened ancestor figure with its tattooed face has its hands joined holding a miniature head under its chin. The head is possibly that of an enemy or more probably that of a revered ancestor. Originating in South East Asia, betel chewing is common to all of Eastern Melanesia though contrary to other areas, such as the Trobriands or the Admiralty Islands, very few examples of lime sticks from the Solomon Islands are recorded. The extreme rarity of these objects might mean that this elegant example, carved with a standing figure, was reserved for an elite. The human body was a canvas of its own decorated with scarification and paint, along with numerous ornaments. The materials are precious : turtle-shell, whale ivory, feathers, various shells, human and animal teeth (dolphin, dog, pig & bat), as well as certain fibers notably those of the orchid. Large rings and carved openwork plaques made of giant clam-shell played a significant role regarding status and authority, fuelling relationships between individuals, the terrestrial world and the world of spirits. Produced in different places, the prestige objects were acquired through vast exchange networks – both commercial and ritual – which were spread over many islands. The superb and rare barava ornament reproduced here was carved with intense labor and great skill from the shell of the giant clam. It represents two stylized ancestor figures, squatting back to back on a large ring. Amongst the various body ornaments in this collection, there is a large armband made of small disks of dark and light colored shell forming geometric designs. These jewels, worn by both genders, were made by women specialized in the making of this type of small disks. They played a prominent role as an exchange currency and were signs of wealth. The pair of superb female ear ornaments in the shape of flowers from Bougainville composed of flying-fox teeth and glass trade-beads is remarkable for its minute size and layered complexity. Although military success is often the key to power, war – generally waged for a short period – also helped to improve social status and increase prestige. Weapons – symbols of authority and domination – appeared also during feasts and ceremonies. In the Solomon Islands, the most common weapons were bows and arrows, spears and clubs. The collection includes a bow with a set of arrows from Bougainville, which was collected before 1891. Made of palm wood and reeds, the arrows are delicately incised and the bow is decorated with orchid fiber. Although spears were mundane weapons, those displaying a highly sophisticated decoration – such as the two examples shown here (one formerly in the Hooper collection, the other from a French private museum), also had a ceremonial function. Each is decorated, at the junction of the point and the shaft, with Janus anthropomorphic figures and geometric designs created with inlaid segments of nautilus shell. The same goes for the war clubs one a simple elegant flared sword and the other carved with a crocodile – emblem of status linked to the position of chief – holding a human head in its jaws. More than a monster devouring an unfortunate victim, it is probably the representation of a protective relationship between the human ancestor and the dangerous beast. To protect themselves from this arsenal of weapons – which refers to the numerous headhunting expeditions pacing daily life in the Solomons – the warriors used several types of shields. Two examples are presented here : one, oval-shaped and carved in light wood, represents the type usually made of rolled and braided fiber – the other, a rare
1 A full figure nguzunguzu canoe prow-ornament presenting an ancestor head in both hands. The face is inlayed with nautilus shell segments. 30,5 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Ex coll.: Dr. & Mrs. Villaret, Paris
2 A tindalo spirit figure with Janus heads, one of which has concentric circles tattooed on the cheeks. These spirit figures represent the deceased and his power. Manning Strait. 27 cm. 19th/20th centuries.
example made of tightly tied wooden sticks, is ornamented with a double “X” motif at the upper end. The ownership of a war canoe and the quantity of heads taken in combat conferred tremendous prestige to the chiefs. These canoe raids were necessary to obtain the trophies essential to fundamental rituals – death of a chief, building of a canoe or a canoe-house. Taking the life of an enemy also meant taking his power. Of all the early chronicles referring to the Solomon Islands, the tales of headhunting related by Festetics de Tolna who actually took part in one of those expeditions on the island of Choiseul are probably the most daring (Chez les cannibales, Plon, Paris, 1903, pp. 347-359). Head hunting was finally forbidden by the colonial administration at the end of the 19th century. The great war canoes with their elevated prows, enriched with mother-of-pearl inlays and shell pendants had, at the level of the stem, the famous prow-ornament nguzunguzu (Roviana lagoon) or toto isu (Marovo lagoon) supposed to protect the canoes and the crews from malevolent sea spirits and storms. Described for the first time by Bougainville, this figurative carving is probably the most representative art form of the Solomons. The three superb examples offered here illustrate the peculiar manner in which Solomon islanders represented faces – oversized and prognathous – a representation which probably originates in a creation myth featuring a mythological dog whose elongated muzzle is incorporated into the human face. The first prow shows a full-figure seated male with its knees raised, its ears ornamented with heavy circular pendants and its hands joined, holding under the chin a smaller head symbolizing either a victim taken in order to ensure the success of the expedition, or that of a protective ancestor. Very few full-figure prows are know to exist and this example is previously unrecorded. The second prow-figure is composed of a large head with a skullcap once decorated with seeds; its earlobes are elongated and widened by ear ornaments. The eyes and face are inlaid with nautilus shell segments. It is amongst the first four or five recorded examples ever collected by Europeans! The third piece of this type is more classical: it is a synthesis of the two others, with its mother-of-pearl inlays and its eyes decorated with blue glass trade-beads. It was collected in the 19th century on the small island of Simbo. The canoe was propelled with simple paddles, characterized by their long pointed blades. The first of these magnificent paddles shown here has an olive-shaped handle at the end so it could be grasped more easily. A Janus ancestor head is carved in high relief under the olive, with the typical prognathous features. The long pointed blade is embellished with a superb painted decor showing geometric designs and an anthropomorphic sea spirit composed of birds and fishes – this spirit figure was recently discovered under a thick layer of European paint, perhaps hidden in an unusual form of Christian censorship. The blade of the second outstanding paddle was collected in 1874 by Eduard Hersheim; it is finely engraved in low relief with the kokorra or beku design. The figure is squatting with its arms raised - its long head is surmounted with a bulb-shaped hairdo like the upi or initiates hat, its feet folded under the buttocks, and it wears a kapkap pendant.
3 Nguzunguzu canoe prow-ornament. Collected by CĂŠment-Adrien Vincendon-Dumoulin on the 3rd voyage of Dumont Durville (1838-1840) on board the Astrolabe. This is one of the earliest examples ever collected by European explorers. There is a role of fiber inserted into the right earlobe. 22 cm. 18th/19th centuries.
ClĂŠment-Adrien Vincendon-Dumoulin (1811/1858)
4 Standing figure holding the head of an ancestor. Vella Lavella Island. 52 cm.
5 Grave merker for an important person in the form of a figure with a prognathic face like a nguzunguzu. Olovotu Tribe, Marovo Lagoon, Roviana Island. Coralrock. 68 cm.
Bonito fishing, an activity symbolically associated with the spirit of the sea and with ancestors, was a significant cultural event for the people of the Solomon Islands. Techniques, materials, captured species as well as fishing sites were often central in a symbolic context, which beyond the concerns linked with subsistence, made traditional fishing a ritual activity. A close symbolic relation existed between bonito fishing and head hunting, and the rituals ruling these two activities were analogous. Made from fragile fragments of shell, bone, wood, turtle shell, marine ivory, teeth and other materials, the form of these fishing hooks â€“ some of which have an exclusively ritual purpose â€“ added an aesthetic dimension to their utilitarian function. This can best be seen in the remarkable fishhook carved in a single piece of bone in the form of a small realistic bait fish.
Philippe Bourgoin (translated from the French by Manuel Benguigui)
6 Nguzunguzu canoe prow-ornament with glass trade-bead eyes and nautilus shell inlays. The label indicates it was collected on Simbo Island. 21,5 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Ex coll.: L. Lanfranchi, Milano
A paddle with Janus ancestor heads on the shaft and a fish spirit figure painted on the blade (see back cover). 151,5 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Ex coll.: D. Petty, UK
A ceremonial food bowl carved in the form of a bird. 43,2 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Ex coll.: H. Beasley, UK; P. Tishman, NY
A stone ceremonial food bowl carved with a human head. The floor of the bowl has been pierced so as to render it useless. 37 cm. 19th century or earlier.
A barava with twin ancestor figures. Giant clam shell. 21,1 cm. 19th century or earlier.
10 A curved barava with a stylized figure at the top. Giant clam shell.16,4 cm. 19th century or earlier.
12 A lime spatula with an ancestor figure. 40,5 cm. 19th/20th centuries.
A shell-bead and fiber arm-band. 18 cm. 19th/ 20th centuries. Collected by Maurice NappĂŠe in 1922. 19th/20th centuries.
A war shield made of lashed segments of wood. Florida Islands (?). 83,5 cm. 19th/20th centuries.
A carved wood war-shield in the form of the woven cane examples. 81 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Ex coll. : B. Evans, Sydney. Ill.: SHIELDS OF OCEANIA: ed.: Beran, Harry & Craig, Barry. Crawford House Press & Oceanic Art Society, Australia, 2005.
A war-club carved with a crocodile head hold an ancestors head in its maw. Santa Isabel or Florida Islands. 122.5 cm. 19th/ 20th centuries.
A war-club. Malaita, Island. 68,7 cm. 19th century.
A war-spear with Janus ancestor figures. San Christobal Island. Black-palm wood and nautilus shell. 238,5 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Ex coll. : Mr. Martinâ€™s private museum, Frontignan, France
18 A war-spear with Janus ancestor figures. San Christobal Island. Black-palm wood and nautilus shell. 275,5 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Ex coll.: James Hooper, NÂ° H 1189.
A dance-wand in the form of a quata or parrying club. 76 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Collected at Na Tagera village on Santa Ana Island by the La Korrigane expedition (1934-1936). Ill. : L'ART OCEANIEN, sa présence in Collection Le Musée Vivant. N° 38, APAM, Paris, 1951, fig. 148.
21 Fish-hook. Choiseul Island. Bone. 5,1 cm. 19th/20th centuries.
22 A magical charm in the form of an elongated whale. 39 cm. 19th/20th centuries.
An initiates hat or upi. Bougainville Island. Fiber and mosquito net. 43 cm. Collected by Dr. William â€œBillâ€œ Race, Australian Dept. of Public Health posted to PNG circa 1940/50.
A chiefs staff carved with two k o k o r a fi g u r e s . Bougainville Island. Black-palm wood and orchid root. 140,7 cm. 19th century. Ex coll.: K o n i e t z k o , H a m b u r g ; Verlemann-Mueller, Detmold
Ear ornaments. Fibers, flying fox teeth, trade beads & orchid root. Bougainville Island. 3.5 & 4.5 cm.
Two rare hair combs carved with kokora type figures. Telei village, Bougainville Island. Bamboo and orchid root. A) 39 cm B) 30 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Ex coll.: Friedrich F. Tippmann, Vienna (1894/1974).
27 A ceremonial paddle with a full figure kokora spirit. Bougainville Island. 170 cm. 19th century. Collected in the field in 1874-75 by Eduard Hernsheim and by descent through the family. Subsequently on deposit in the Museum fĂźr VĂślkerkunde, Hamburg.
Works of Art from the Pacific Islands
28 A nose ornament in the form of a human figure. Ontong Java, Para-Polynesia. Turtle-shell. 9,2 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Collected in 1908 by Mr. & Mrs. Jack London on the Snark at Ontong Java
A rare proto-polynesian winged adze blade found circa 1949 at the fortified Moki Pah on the Banks Peninsula. Maori, South Island, New Zealand, Polynesia. Basalt. 30,5 cm. Circa 800 to 1500 AD.
A large hei tiki with powerful features and its original inlayed eyes. Acquired by the naturalist Frederick Strange in Auckland on board H.M.S. Acheron in 1849. Maori, New Zealand, Polynesia. Nephrite & Haliotis shell. 13 cm. 18th/19th centuries. Ex coll. : F. Strange (1826-1854), UK/Australia; Capt. W. Campbell Thomson (1851-1934), UK/Australia; James Robert Tyrell (1875-1961), Tyrell's Museum, Sydney; H. Strongfeld, Berlin; D. Bucher, Hamburg.
31 A large and powerfully carved ivi poâ€™o of a wide format most probably intended as part of a chiefly fan handle. Marquesas Islands, Polynesia. Human bone. 18th/19th centuries. 4,4 cm.
A very rare form of fly-whisk with the handle carved to represent the lobed head of an ula, the throwing club. Fiji, Polynesia. Wood with coconut husk fiber. 72 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Ex coll.: Lord McAlpine, UK.
A complete chiefly roof-spire - gomoa or pwamabai - depending on the local language group, carved to represent a powerful ancestral figure. New Caledonia, Melanesia. 16th/18th centuries. C-14 date of 1057 to 1266 AD for the wood. 212 cm. Ex coll.: M. Eisenberg, Paris; J. Wormser, Paris & Geneva; J. Rosenthal, Paris & MĂ¨gĂŠve.
34 A war-shield or goubier decorated with a large fish and two split feathers. Astrolabe Bay, Rai Coast, Papua New-Guinea, Melanesia. 83 cm. 19th century. Ex coll.: L. & M. van Bussel, Amsterdam; A. Eskenazy, Paris; P. Lambert, Bruxelles.
35 A malagan figure. New Ireland, Papua New-Guinea. 121 cm. 19th century. Ex coll. : Wood & Taylor families, USA, pre-1920â€™s.
36 A ceremonial dance hat and crest, or rhei, carved in one piece and decorated to one side with stylized sea-gulls and to the other a human figure. Sulka People, New Britain, Papua NewGuinea, Melanesia. 246 cm. 19th/20th centuries. Ex coll.: Mr. & Mrs. Warren Perry Anderson (The Owsten collection), Australia.
My grateful appreciation to the TEFAF team for their excellent & ongoing work organizing the fair and to STABILO for the stand building. My thanks to our photographer Michel Gur[inkel, our base-‐maker Manuel Do Carmo, our restorers Brigitte Martin and Serge Dubuc. Last but not least our art-‐handlers Philippe Delmas & Francis Viera. My thanks to all our most generous friends for their usual and unsel[ish assistance : Maria & Daniel Blau deserve a special mention, as do Philippe Bourgoin, Christian Coif[ier, Pauline Costaz, Roland Delplace, Bernard Dulon, Acher Eskenazy, Nicole Gnesa, Ingrid Heermann, Steven Hooper, Emeric Huget, Antje Kelm, Hong & Pol Lambert, David F. Rosenthal, Jean Roudillon, Adrian Sapronov, Patrice Wormser, Loed van Bussel. My remarkable assistants Manuel Benguigui in Paris and Fang in Maastricht bene[it from my admiration and thanks. A special mention as always for Jos Hu and his legendary patience and tolerance. Above all, my family gives me their support, patience, and affection for which I thank them and take strength. Photo credits : •All works of art : Michel Gur[inkel, Paris. © Galerie Meyer Oceanic Art, Paris; except N° 6 : Courtesy David F. Rosenthal, All rights reserved. •Early photographs of the Paci[ic peoples : Inside front cover, double text page, N° 3, 33, 34, 36, inside back cover © Collection Cayetana & Anthony JP Meyer, Paris •Photograph N° 1, : George Brown D.D., “A man of New Georgia, Solomon Islands”.1908, © http:/ commons.wikimedia.org, permission PD-‐1923. •Photograph N° 26 : “Dr. William “Bill” Race of Sunnybank with the traditional headdress”. Newspaper article by Ben Connolly, Australia. Courtesy of Michael Hamson •Photograph N° 28, : “Man of Ontong Java” © T h e J o u r n a l o f t h e P o l y n e s i a n S o c i e t y in Volume 49, 1940 -‐ Volume 49, No. 194 -‐ Polynesian colonies in Melanesia, by H. Ian Hogbin, p 197-‐220. •Photograph N° 3 : Clément Adrien Vincendon-‐Dumoulin © http://commons.wikimedia.org, Every effort has been made to ensure correct copyright procedure. In the event you feel that your copyright has not been correctly asserted please contact Galerie Meyer -‐ Oceanic Art, Paris Layout and artwork : Michel Gur[inkel & Galerie Meyer-‐Oceanic Art, Paris This publication and contents © Galerie Meyer-‐Oceanic Art, Paris, January 2011 Any reproduction or publication in any form or format, either whole or partial, of the items, images, photos, works of art and texts contained in this publication is prohibited except with formal written approval.
Full descriptions, condition reports and prices for all of the works of art are available upon request
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Galerie Meyer - Oceanic Art catalogue for TEFAF 2011 in Maastricht : ART of the SOLOMON ISLANDS and a selection of early Oceanic Master Work...
Published on Jan 3, 2011
Galerie Meyer - Oceanic Art catalogue for TEFAF 2011 in Maastricht : ART of the SOLOMON ISLANDS and a selection of early Oceanic Master Work...