Sculptures in Stone, Bronze and Iron Stone Axe and Adze Heads from PNG
Original stone axe head and solid mold-cast sculptures in bronze and iron with bronze socles (height with socles 16 cm)
Full series of stone axe and adze heads with solid sand-cast sculptures in bronze and iron with bronze socles. (heights including socles range from 13 to 30 cm)
Inspired by her time in Papua New Guinea and her collaborations with artists there, Burgos has assembled a collection of objects from PNG, both field collected and purchased in the international tribal art market. In Paris in 2014 Burgos purchased a set of seven stone axe heads, which had been originally collected in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in 1890 by the Reverend von Abel a missionary from the UK. In London Burgos created casts of these in bronze and iron and commissioned matching bronze socles (stands) to mount them a groups.
The stones originate from Woodlark Island in Milne Bay on the Eastern side of Papua New Guinea. The properties of volcanic metamorphic greenstone diorite found in one particular rock bed makes excellent axe heads as they hold an edge, do not shatter and polish well. They vary in color from nearly black to green depending on the degree of chlorite formed during metamorphosis from basalt. Stone axes from Woodlark were highly prized and were traded all across Melanesia for thousands of years. The finest quality axe heads were so highly valued that they ceased to be utilitarian but instead became prestige objects. In some cultures such stones are a form of symbolic currency not unlike the shell money found across the Pacific. Some of the seven stones in Burgos’ collection have been refined for their beauty by additional shaping and polishing which would have been unnecessary for a working tool. The metal casts equally could be used as tools but when presented as sculptures they too become aesthetic prestige objects.
Label on one stone axe reads 14.10.90, which is for the year 1890
The cast sculptures were individually cast by master foundryman Chris Nash of Arch Bronze, London. One set of sand-cast sculptures was made in both iron and bronze. Each sand cast is unique, the mold being destroyed in the process. One of the smaller stones was used to make rubber molds for the lost-wax mold-cast edition in both bronze and iron shown above. The mold- cast sculptures are crisp and keep the sharp edge of the stone originals whilst the sand-cast have a still molten liquid quality about them.
Wooden Sculptures from PNG
In Mariwai village on the Sepik River in 2015 Burgos collaborated with some of the master carvers from the village, such as Mathew Kuar and Tobi Borungai. Together they made miniature versions of the Kwoma spirits; Yena, Mindja and Nokwi. In the field Burgos gilded some of these and gave them as gifts to the artists. Others she took back to London and made mold-cast bronzes. On her return to Mariwai the next year she took bronze casts of the three sprits and gave one to each of the three clan chiefs. With no tradition of metalwork in their culture these gilded and bronze statuettes were exceptional and became highly prized possessions. The contrast between the cold heavy bronze and the wooden original amazed and enthralled the artists.
Sepik River art is made largely from organic materials and so objects often decay or return to the earth within a generation. The transmutation of sacred objects into metals passes on an enduring legacy via a technology absent to traditional PNG society. The sculptures represent the bronze and iron ages that never existed in the culture. There is a saying “in a generation PNG has gone from the stone to the cell phone”.
Gilded wooden Nokwi figure with mold-cast bronze (height 17 cm)
Wooden Yena and Nokwi figures
Burgos has also collected or been gifted objects with ceremonial value in Papua New Guinea and then cast bronzes, which are patinated to match the originals.
Kwoma carved cassowary bone dagger, Bangwis (Upper Sepik) and bronze (length 29 cm)
Coastal Sepik wooden amulet from Madang and bronze (on left) (height 12 cm)
Allusions in Burgos’ Castings and Banks’ Patu
Exceptional Objects tell Exceptional Stories
Aside from the unmistakable allusions to the three-age system of stone, bronze and iron, these works also refer to the value of gifts and exchanges within traditional societies and the value of metal objects as trade goods in the encounters between these societies and westerners. Prior to these encounters Oceania was almost entirely devoid of metalwork and this made the first metal goods extremely desirable.
In taking the originals, making the metal casts and returning these, Burgos addresses this history and writes a new chapter in the stones’ story. In particular she references the fascinating story of trade and travel of Joseph Banks and his brass patu1.
In 1772 the naturalist Joseph Banks, who had accompanied Captain Cook on his first Oceanic voyage, had made in London 40 brass replicas of a Maori patu club. They were cast by Eleanor Gyles, Shoe Lane, Fleet Street, and engraved by Thomas Orpin of the Strand with Banks’ ‘shield of arms’, his name and the date. Banks intended to take them as trade goods and gifts on Cook’s second voyage. Banks was unable to join this voyage so he gave some of them to Charles Clerke to take on the third voyage, during which Clerke gave them as gifts in New Zealand and on the northwest coast of America.
1 ‘Joseph Banks’s Forty Brass Patus’, by Jeremy Coote, in Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 20 (March 2008)
Despite historical sightings around the Pacific the present whereabouts of only six are
known; two in the Pitt Rivers, one in the British Museum, one in the Museum of London, one in a private collection and one in the Tamatslikt Cultural Institute of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation which was said to have been excavated by National Geographic from a grave on the shore of the Columbia River in Oregon, and ‘repatriated’ by the Smithsonian to the Umatilla Nation in 2005.
Patu Onewa (Maori stone hand club) Replica Patu made for Joseph Banks
Greywacke stone, 45 cm long, New Zealand 19thC. British Museum cat. Oc,+5977
brass, 36.5 cm long, 1772, British Museum cat. Oc1936,0206.1