Malagans: The Ceremonial Art of New Ireland

A Visit to New Ireland

 Alcheringa Gallery is proud to present this collection of malagans from the finest contemporary artists of New Ireland. Malagan carvings from northern New Ireland have long graced the walls of museums. A recent example of this is the pride of place that master carver Edward Salle's work enjoys in the house of spirits in the Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Noumea, New Caledonia. However, it is only more currently that these works have become available to private collectors, and we take pleasure in presenting this important selection to you.

Malagans are carved as memorials to the dead, but have a multifaceted cultural function, integrating much of the economic, social and political life of the people. Examples of the quality in this exhibition are rare and precious and created mostly by older master carvers.

 Hilda Tutton and I collected this work from villages on the northern coast of New Ireland and from Tabar Islands on an expedition to the area in the spring of 1992. We feel privileged to have, for a brief period, shared in this world of fragile beauty where we were welcomed with utmost warmth and generosity. While we were there, much activity was being directed towards preparations for a malagan feast to be held the following week. We witnessed the rehearsing of dancing and singing, and the stockpiling of taro and sago picturesquely wrapped in banana leaves. Construction sounds came from behind the palm leaves enclosing the malagan wall. We felt honoured to be invited into the enclosure to view the partially completed structure upon which the malagans would hang. Two elders played the garamut drum while master carver Edward Salle's son John explained to us a few details about the events that would take place.

 One evening we lingered on the edge of the ocean in the village of Medina, where we met with artist Michael Xomerang. While we were there, we talked to Paul Lupai, one of Michael's nephews. His passion for his heritage was obvious. It was more strongly felt, perhaps, since leaving the village where he grew up to work for the central bank in Port Moresby, only returning for holidays. He said,

 Here in Medina we are lucky. We realised the culture was fading and we have gone back - all our young people - we are pushing them to learn from the old people before they are gone. There is an administrative system and justice that goes with it - it is more 'just' than anything we know today. When you have a justice system that is so good, there is peace in the village. This thing [the Malagan system] has been going on for thousands of years. This we let go and we didn't realise it initially, but now we make a big effort. Time is so short.

 We dedicate this exhibition to the artists of New Ireland as a celebration of their cultural heritage and its continuation.

 -- Elaine Monds, Director, Alcheringa Gallery

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