Reclining figure. Wood carving; 67 cm x 59 cm. Nagaland or Arunachal Pradesh. c. early 19th century. 86/7174.

The Nagas are known as a head-hunting martial race for whom “the art of representation is… felt to be a dangerous transmutation, an act of creative magic….”.1 Not only are Naga beliefs and practices an inspiration for their art but are, in fact, truly its raison d’etre.

The young men’s dormitory or morung, the guard house of the village and the chief centre of all social activities, such as the Feasts of Merit, is invariably decorated with paintings and wood carvings of the elephant, tiger, hornbill, python, human heads, the sun and the moon executed in high relief on the main pillar and upper beam. Such carvings are also found in the homes of chiefs or socially prominent men.

Human figures such as these were either used as effigies of dead warriors, which the wandering spirit could inhabit, or simply placed outside the homes of valiant men as marks of prestige.

Carved from solid trunks of trees, the solemn expressions of these wood sculptures heightened by cowrie shells, beads, skull necklaces, headgear with human or animal hair, combined with the characteristic blunt tubular carving on dark wood, give these Naga figures a silent though persuasive identity.

1. Kramrisch, 1968, p.63

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