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A Fine Old Massim Ancestor Figure by Mutuaga Milne Bay Province Papua New Guinea

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Collection No. SOLD
Size Height: 36cm
New Guinea Oceanic Art
New Guinea & Oceanic Art
Abelam New Guinea Art

A Fine Old Massim Ancestor Figure by the Master Carver Mutuaga from Milne Bay Province Papua New Guinea

This superb Ancestor Figure was carved by the 19th Century Master Carver Mutuaga from Dagodagoisu village, Massim region, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea.  Out of artworks, Mutuaga made his ebony figures both free standing like this example or sitting on a stool are some of the finest artworks he carved.

This figure has been authenticated by Dr. Harry Beran author of the book  ” Mutuaga: a 19th Century New Guinea Master Carver ”

As described by Mr Crispin Howarth Curator of Pacific Art at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra;

”  It is rare that a Melanesian work of art from the nineteenth century can be attributed to an artist with any certainty, so the artist known as Mutuaga is a phenomenon. He is the only named New Guinean artist who was active during this period and who is responsible for a known body of outstanding work characterized by small yet monumental figurative sculpture.

The artist was known to be of a positive and cheerful disposition and, as a carver of great standing, Mutuaga was nicknamed Oitau (carved man) by his peers. His ability to transform the utilitarian object—in this case, a lime spatula (known as enale or gem in the Suau area)—and to make it into something attractive and covetous was exceptional. While all lime spatulas from the Milne Bay Province are decorated to some extent, and many also include a small figure as the handle, Mutuaga’s works are usually far larger and show a greater level of sculptural strength.

Little was known about the artist’s identity until 1996, when art historian Dr Harry Beran published groundbreaking research. Beran identified Mutuaga and his body of work through some hundred sculptures that had been mainly sitting unrecognized in museum collections. We now know Mutuaga was born around 1860 in Dagodagisu Village in the Milne Bay province of Papua New Guinea. He died around 1920.

Mutuaga, although he did not adopt Christianity, gained the friendship and patronage of the missionary Charles Abel at the nearby Kwato Island Mission. Mutuaga’s relationship with Abel provided a conduit for his art beyond the traditional exchange practices of his community. Missionaries, commodores and even two of Papua’s first governors acquired Mutuaga’s sculptures. Unsurprisingly, many of these works later found their way into galleries and museums across the world. ”

Provenance: The Todd Barlin Collection of Oceanic & Papua New Guinea Art


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