Art Friday: A Marquesas Island Canoe Figure

Canoe figure, Marquesas Islands, Polynesia, pre-contact, stone-carved, ex. Richard Kelton Collection, late 18th century, length: 34.2 cm. Photo: Photo: Michael Hamson, US.

With a population of less than 9,000, the Marquesas Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean is as remote as remote gets. The islands have a long history of great indigenous art, of which this canoe figure is an example. Such figures are rare today. Of the 37 known figures, seven are in private collections, of which three are probably pre-contact besides the present example. Each figure has areas of distinct rippled too marks, most obvious on the side and back of the head on this figure. In addition, the piercing through the ear has a crater-like construction of the hole achieved by digging out one side, then flipping it over and digging out the other until they connect through. The smooth patina on this figure suggest an extensive ritual life well after its function on a canoe. What remains is an artefact of archaic power and great refinement.

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