· IMAGE INDEX
Ben and Robin Sisia explain Robin's Katir to gallery director Elaine Monds. (video still, April 2008)
Leaders of the Momarba clan had interrupted funeral arrangements for a special meeting about the fates of two important malagan
. Should these pieces, legacies of elder Tamun Kosep and master carver Michael Xomerang, be sent away to a museum, or should they remain by Kosep's grave? Should they be preserved abroad, representing the clan to the world, or should they be kept here, where they were decaying but commemorating the dead? Would younger carvers yet learn from them? Would outsiders appreciate them, and how? The discussion lasted well past nightfall. Finally, all agreed to entrust us with finding a suitable home for the sculptures abroad. Chief Bokawa Laisie explained:
"These are the last of this kind of carving, because our elders who have brought these things have passed away. This kind of malagan represents our clan. It is different from other kinds. Tamun Kosep had the rights to this malagan; he told the carver to make it. It was carved in certain steps, and special feasts were made concerning the steps. It uses special writing. Every colour is a word or a saying. Some carvers today do not know this: they paint just to paint. If we keep knowledge of these things, it's all right, but if not, it's gone. Will our lives be honoured with malagan too? Yes, but it will be different. These were made for us, for this generation. A place like an art gallery or a museum will keep these for a very long time. People will know that we have made these things. They will be seen and remembered."
To be remembered
is a main purpose of malagan. An implication of the clan's decision is that readers of this text are participants in a traditional culture of northern New Ireland.
So what is this culture?
(also called malanggan or malangan) refers not only to objects associated with traditional mortuary ceremonies, but also to the whole ceremonial apparatus of the culture itself, involving months of preparations, great expense, and complex exchanges between all levels of society: individuals, hamlets, villages, clans, and moieties. Malagan commemorates the dead and makes sure their souls are properly taken care of. At the same time, it helps the living to forget them by reweaving social fabrics torn by their absence. Associated rites are involved in other societal functions, too, like male initiation and contract validation.
Carvings are commissioned and their progress overseen by one who owns the rights to their design and use. These copyrights can be sold to members of other clans, at which point the original owner relinquishes his rights to them. Designs may also be revealed to the artist by clan spirits (masalai 
). As indicated above by the chief's equation of painting with writing, artists must follow strict rules to realize their creations, which are carefully scrutinized by the community after unveiling. The most talented master carvers are much sought after and their work widely recognized.
This exhibition focuses on three of these carvers and their artistic heirs. Edward Salle and his son Matthew are from Tabar, Ben Sisia and his sons Robin and David are from Libba, and Michael Xomerang (now deceased) and his former student Ali Elias are from Medina. These senior artists' tremendous contributions to malagan culture span nearly sixty years. Their sons continue to teach, promote, and perfect their art.
We are grateful to many New Irelanders, including the artists and cultural leaders mentioned herein, for making this exhibition possible. Thanks also to those who exhibit and write about malagan (some recommended sources are listed below), those who provide financial support for the art, and those who make the effort to see and remember.
Dan Lepsoe, Exhibition Co-curator (with Elaine Monds)
1. The first two pieces in this catalogue.
2. Condensed from a longer interview conducted on April 8, 2008 in Medina, New Ireland. Thanks to Gertrude Lundeng for her assistance and translation.
3. For more on masalai
and their role in inspiration, see notes for Katir
The following publications were invaluable in preparing notes for this catalogue, and are recommended for further reading:
Lincoln, Louise and Elaine Monds. 1993. Malagans: the Ceremonial Art of New Ireland
. Victoria, Canada: Alcheringa Gallery.
Gunn, Michael and Philippe Peltier (editors). 2006. New Ireland: Art of the South Pacific
. Paris: musee de quai Branly; Milan: 5 Continents Editions. Contains writing by Vicky Barnecutt, Brigitte Derlon, Antje Denner, Michael Gunn, Sean Kingston, Susanne Kuchler, Philippe Peltier, Markus Schindlbeck, & Graeme Were.
Lincoln, Louise. 1987. Assemblage of Spirits: Idea and Image in New Ireland
. New York: George Braziller in assoc. with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Contains writing by Tibor Bodrogi, Brenda Clay, Michael Gunn, Dieter Heintze, Louise Lincoln, and Roy Wagner.