Artist's cultural association:
Malakula (Malekula) Island region
Nekempao 1972 Place made: Iapekamavis Village, Malakula Island, Malampa Province, Vanuatu Melanesia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, tree fern, boar tusks, fibre, clay
Nekempao figures are also connected to the Nalawan associated circumcision ceremony. They are created by the young initiates’ maternal uncle, or father, as a representation of the young boy as a virile member of the community, and they share certain visual features with the Metaniele board. The right to create a Nekempao is expensive, and not all men are allowed to make them.
A bamboo nasal plug decoration can be seen under the nose—this is only worn by initiated men. The nose, again, is a metaphorical penis, but each Nekempao is overtly sexualised by also depicting an erect penis. The protruding eyes found on Malakulan art objects often are referring to death; but it is more likely that they symbolise pain in the artworks connected to initiation rites. There were several different types of Nekempao, including one with many faces, collectively symbolising several young initiates.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2013
From: Crispin Howarth Kastom: Art of Vanuatu National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2013