Ancestral Spirits: Easter Island Sculpture from the Art Museum Collection presents small sculptures that reflect the culture and capture the artistry of this ancient island. Easter Island, known today as Rapa Nui, is best known for the large moai (pronounced mo-eye) sculptures that are found throughout the island. It is believed that they were created to represent a family or clan member. No two are exactly the same, and most moai are situated facing away from the sea with the belief that their supernatural powers would look over and protect the family.
Similarly, the smaller sculptures included in Ancestral Spirits were created as
honorary pieces for ancestors, were used as items of personal protection, or
were created conjunction with cultural and religious practices. Some animals, like the carved moko or lizards, were thought to be
protection against illness and disease. Small
moai and moai kavakava – those figures with sunken bellies and protruding ribs
– represent individual ancestors and are intricately carved.
All of the pieces included in this exhibition were created in the 20th century. Whether in stone or wood, these pieces reflect the artistry of Easter Island craftspeople, and are a way of preserving a culture that no longer exists as it did when the large moai were created hundreds of years ago.
Funded in part by UW Art Museum Gala Funds
Left: Moai, 20th Century, wood, 14-1/2 x 3-7/8 x 3-1/2 inches, gift of Mrs. William T. Mulloy, University of Wyoming Art Museum Collection, 1978.247.99
Right: Birdman, 20th Century, stone, 11 x 8-1/2 x 3-1/4 inches, gift of Mrs. William T. Mulloy, University of Wyoming Art Museum Collection, 1978.247.66