New Ireland Kulap Chalk Ancestor Figure

13678. New Ireland Kulap Chalk Ancestor Figure

19th Century AD

Carved on bent legs with large dangling phallus, a cylindrical torso with the arms worked close to the body, the hands clasp on the belly, a short neck carrying a rather large head; the facial features outer worldly with wide grin and large eyes. Size 13.5 inches (34.3cm) H + custom base. Provenance: NYC artist Harry Bertschmann.

This kulap, which was carved to house spirits of the recently dead, was made to be smashed after a few months’ mourning, but which has been preserved. New Ireland, a large island in Papua New Guinea, is shaped like a musket. Kulap sculptures come from the island’s southeast, the handle of the gun. When a member of his family died, a man from one of the southeast’s coastal villages trekked inland, toward the island’s mountains, where seams of limestone emerge like bones from gangrenous jungle. He found a carver, and together they chose a seam. The sculpture was carried home, and placed in a house of the dead, a squat thatched hut, where it conversed with other kulaps. Men were allowed into the hut, to dance for the amusement of the dead. Women had to mourn outside. After a few months, and a few dances, the kulap was supposed to be destroyed.

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