Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information, including hours

Collection

All

Search

Pacific art

View More:


Title

Fern figure

collected 1968-early 1980s


Artist

Ni-Vanuatu people

Republic of Vanuatu


About

Across the central and northern islands of Vanuatu, a series of grade-taking rituals are performed over the course of a man's life to determine his rank within society. In southern Malakula the grade system is known as 'Nimangi'. Not all men are able to attain the highest grade, as grade-takers must pay for all the connected rituals, dances and feasts using his accumulated wealth— in the form of lengths of stringed shell-money—and sacrifice pigs to a value proportionate to the rank being taken. Wealth is achieved through a man's ability to garner material and moral support from his community, achieved through demonstrating his own generosity, skill at public speaking and proving his leadership qualities.

'Big men' become 'fathers of tradition': those of high grade who are masters of traditional ritual and exchange and able to communicate directly with the ancestors. The highest ranks in ceremonial society require the grade-taker to have a figure made from the hard-wearing tree fern, its form dependent on the codes of the particular grade level. The pest resistant tree fern is workable when fresh but hardens after it dries. Tree-fern figures are visual proof that an individual has gained a certain grade status.

The forms and details of this towering fern figure were carved for a specific purpose, and, although these remain unknown to us, the skill with with the artist has hewn the tree fern is readily apparent. Upon completion, the surface was possibly over-modelled with a vegetal-clay paste and painted with ochres, however, over time this fugitive medium would have washed away.


Details


Cultural origin

Ni-Vanautu people


Date

collected 1968-early 1980s


Media category

Sculpture


Materials used

tree fern (Cyathea lunulata)


Dimensions

420.0 x 40.0 x 40.0 cm


Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Credit

Gift of Martin Browne 2020. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program


Location

Not on display


Accession number

117.2020


Artist information

Ni-Vanuatu people

Works in the collection

9