iCula ni bokola

Introduction

A totemic hybrid figure, part human, part mammal and sacred object, was inspired by a wooden instrument presented by the gallery Anthony Meyer, a worldwide specialist in Oceanic and Eskimo art, based in Paris. The beautiful object had the erectness of the human body and an animal presence as the four prongs resembled animal legs.

Historic Background

It is when I read the text under the image that I had cold shivers running down the spine: Cannibal forks were used in the Fiji Islands until the late 19th century. i Cula ni bokola  was exclusively used for the consumption of human flesh by high ranking chiefs and great priests. These high ranking personae were taboo and nothing unsanctified was to touch them. The taboo object became a treasure in its own right representing the power of the tribal chief and kept in the burekalou, the spirit-house until the next meal. The Fiji tribes were successful fishermen and had developed agriculture. Various Pacific islands were home to cultures that engaged in cannibalism. Reasons for the grisly practice (from an occidental point of view) range from insulting the enemy by consuming their dead, or to absorb a vanquished foe's essence and forces. The Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea ate every part of their deceased including their bones and faeces. This practice known as endocannibalism, was actually born out of love and respect as they viewed it as a way for their deceased to literally live on forever. 

The artist draws a disturbing link to the ritual of transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Eucharist in Catholic Church, in which bread and wine become flesh and blood of the Christ. Not just symbolically! The Christian community believes to hold the Christ’s blood and flesh in their mouth, in remembrance of his sacrifice for humanity and keeping alive his essence and teachings. The host is shown in a monstrance, the containing holy vessels are only to be touched by the priest and kept in the tabernacle until the next holy communion. Some ritual gestures bear signs of resemblance between very different folks. There is no comparison or judgement intended, only the opening of a discussion. As human beings we have an innate tendency to xenophobic and arrogant behaviour, based on poor information. We judge a reality with the parameters of knowledge which refer to our time and our own cultural background, a poor set of tools which does not allow us to grasp the complexity of a situation in a different ethnic environment or chapter in the past. We quite “naturally” position ourselves on a superior level in regards to our natural environment, animals and other ethnic entities. Where originates this narcissistic belief?

The Sculpture

The sculpture iCula ni bokola is not very big, the hips are modelled on the artist’s body dimensions. Yet from a distance its monumental presence deceives its actual measurements. This is a sculpture the viewer can walk up to and look eye to eye. He will successively discover animal legs, human hips, breasts, raised arms, and the vault of a cathedral. The phallic wooden crown could also be realised in glass, to give the sculpture an even more luminous and sacral feel, by capturing and reflecting light.

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