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Big Nambas people Vanuatu
P'naret mid 20th century Place made: Malakula Island, Malampa Province, Vanuatu Melanesia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, tree fern
Dimensions: 147.0 h x 42.0 w x 39.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1970
Accession No: NGA 70.23

Many societies in Vanuatu build club houses known as Nakamal, where men discuss religious and political matters. In the north-west of Malakula they are called Amél. A P’naret is a decorative horizontal extension of the ridge-pole that juts from the apex, looking downwards, at the front of the club house, and represents the founder of the Amél.

They can only be commissioned from artists who hold the appropriate knowledge, and are created in secret away from the village. Sculpted from a dense tangle of aerial tree fern, the P’naret’s face is remarkably abstract: two large spaces represent flaring nostrils; the bulging circles may look upon first impression like eyes, but they represent raised cheeks or prominent cheekbones; and the actual eyes of the sculpture are hidden, indistinguishable in the furrows of the brow. Behind the looming face of the P’naret is the figure of a lizard or a dog, which could only have been seen in profile in situ, straddling the peak of the house.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2013

From: Crispin Howarth Kastom: Art of Vanuatu National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2013