Easter Island Figure

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is one of the most remote islands in the Pacific Ocean. It was named by Dutch explorers who sighted the island on Easter Sunday, 1722. The indigenous inhabitants refer to Easter Island as Te pito o te henua, ‘the navel of the world’.

Easter Island Figure

These wooden figures were displayed during important festivals and are possibly associated with dead ancestors or minor gods. The staring eyes and extended limbs found on many figures may allude to the appearance of ancestral spirits as seen by the living.

The introduction of metal tools and imported wood in the 19th century led to increasingly more expressive and intricate forms of wood carving on Easter Island. Figures like this one were often collected by visitors to the island and began appearing in Europe, inspiring generations of writers and artists such as Paul Gauguin, Max Ernst and André Breton, the founder of Surrealism.


Adam Jaffer
Curator of World Cultures

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