Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Male Figure (Moai Tangata)

Date:
early 19th century
Geography:
Chile, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Culture:
Rapa Nui people
Medium:
Wood, obsidian, bone
Dimensions:
H. 16 x W. 3 7/8 x D. 2 1/2 in. (40.6 x 9.9 x 6.4 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
Gift of Faith-dorian and Martin Wright, in honor of Livio Scamperle, 1984
Accession Number:
1984.526
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 353
Of all Rapa Nui wood sculptures, the naturalistic male figures known as moai tangata, with their enlarged heads, frontal stance, and prominent stomachs, bear the closest formal resemblance to the island's well-known stone figures. Little is known about the nature and use of moai tangata, but they likely portray ancestors or other powerful supernatural beings. This example has a hole drilled through the neck, indicating that like other Rapa Nui figures, it may have been worn as a pendant during harvest festivals and other ceremonies.
What appears to be the figure's hair consists of a group of three images depicting fish-like creatures with human heads and long flowing beards. These distinctive fish-men, virtually identical to examples that appear in Rapa Nui rock art, possibly represent spirits called nuihi, which combine the features of humans and sharks.
Scamperle M. Livio, Santiago, Chile; Martin and Faith-dorian Wright, New York, until 1984

Kjellgren, Eric, Jo Anne Van Tilburg, and Adrienne L. Kaeppler. Splendid Isolation: Art of Easter Island. New York, New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001, no. 13, pp. 53–54.

Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 195, 319-20.

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, p. 164.



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