Solomon Island Life Size Portrait Bust of a Young Girl (Ritual Novice) c 1900
Artists from the Solomon Island group produced some of the finest & most diverse human 3D figures of all the ethnographic arts – from the erotic owl head pregnant female figures of Rennell Island to the Buka & Bougainville formal family portrait groups & the highly stylized Nguzu head figures which appeared on all manner of items from the sacred/secret/dangerous to the every day.
In Fred McCarthy’s 1951 paper, (Aust Museum Mag Vol X, No.5. Human sculptures of the Solomon Islands) there is an illustration & discussion of a fabulous life size dynamic portrait sculpture figure of a girl from Rubiana (Roviana?) New Georgia. She shares many of the features ascribed to this example. He particularly appreciates & comments on the ”frankness and realism as marked features in the execution…. for nothing is eschewed by the craftsman”.
Also he observes that the facial features of each figure cover the range of expression to be expected by young novices initiates at their puberty rites; expectancy, fear, misery, secrecy and suspicion of youth.
This paper discusses the training of the master specialist carvers by their own fathers or mothers brothers & their payment for their figure work in porpoise teeth currency. Within the Northern Solomons matrilineal clans & family lineage groups of mothers relatives lie the control of this Art production and it’s social function. McCarthy details the specific function of one type of figure carving of a young girl, kaisa, which ensures at marriage that the wife will conceive a first born girl to establish within the wife’s lineage the ownership of property & the relationships of children resulting from the union. This figure is stored in the Cult house of the husband’s clan to be ritually destroyed when the girl child grows up. The sculpture becomes of such power that if a woman sights this figure the child would die.
McCarthy,Fred. 1951. The Human Sculptures of the Solomon Islands. The Australian Museum Magazine.Vol.X,No.5. 139-143. Sydney NSW.
Palmer, Arthur Beau.2007. The Dancing Girls. 19Century Solomon Island Realist Dynamic Portrait Figures. Oceanic Arts Society. Vol.12. Issue 2. May 2007.Syndey NSW.
Phelps,Steven. 1976. Art & Artifacts of the Pacific, Africa and the Americas. The James Hooper Collection. London. Hutchinson Christies.
Vella Lavella girl with painted face and shell ear ornaments.