Why I love Tribal Art: An Iconic Caroline Island Figure

Figure of a god, Nukuoro Atoll, Caroline Islands. Wood, 18th century, 40 cm. Musee du Quai Branly, Paris.

European 20th century-modernist artists were the first to acknowledge tribal objects from the Pacific islands as exemplars of design. In their quest for new interpretations of the human body, they looked to figurative sculptures such as this elegant figure of a god from the remote Caroline Islands in Micronesia.

The minimalist sculpture belongs to a small group of 37 sculptures from the Nukuoro Atoll of the Caroline Islands that were acquired by Western museum collections from the 1870s onwards. The purity of the human form in these rare sculptures greatly inspired the modern art movement, including some of the greatest names in modern sculptures like Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) and Henry Moore (1898-1986).

Alberto Giacometti, Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object ), 1934 (cast c. 1954-55), bronze, 152.1 cm high, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York.

Henry Moore, Standing Figure No. 1, 1952, Bronze, edition of 9, H: 25 cm, Private collection.

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