How can art make the absent present?
In many cultures, art serves as a means to keep the deceased present among the living. Sometimes, as with mourning miniatures, this is done with portraits that act as reminders of those lost. Other times, art is understood as a vessel that can literally contain the spirit or soul of the dead individual. This is the case with both ère ìbejì in Yorubaland and rambaramp in Vanuatu.
Questions to Consider
- It is often said that death is the great leveler of humanity; no one is exempt from it. Yet, both ère ìbejì and rambaramp are created for individuals considered somehow “special” in their respective cultures. What does this suggest to you about the role of art in perpetuating societal status even beyond death?
- How do the form and scale of these memorial figures reinforce their respective functions? To what degree does identifiability or the lack thereof contribute to the function of each figure?
- In their original contexts, figures like these were considered receptacles for the soul or spirit of the deceased. Do you think it is appropriate to include such objects in museum collections?
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