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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the oceanic galleries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at a fly whisk these have been classed as fly whisks in museums but in fact this is not something that would be used to swat flies it has too far too many sacred components these elements of human hair very intricately plaited and then used to make these bindings along with the coconut coir fiber so this is using both human hair and the red fiber which is from the coconut and they're intertwined and that's an important spiritual indicator these are used as a means to encourage the presence of divinity during ritual practice on a sacred precinct in an island group called the Austral Islands which is roughly 700 kilometers south of Tahiti they're composed of this single figure at the top which is usually described as being Janus headed that's a little misleading because the god Janus is a greco-roman two-faced God and what we're seeing here is this beautiful abstract form that is in fact doubled but if this was spun you would see a multiplication of that figure the way that it's FITA placed you can see is a sculptural cube to indicate that this is a single figure that may have been turning ah I see it in fact I see more than four feet I think I see eight feet in fact and then the disks just below it it's almost as if you're seeing those feet having been spun and the term Tahiti refers to the word to spin or turn or twist so in fact these would have been spun or whisked in this rapid motion encouraging that idea of vortex to create a channel down which a god or Divine Principle could arrive I love that idea of the vortex a kind of whirlpool that literally draws the gods down into our world there are two basic realms within the cosmological framework for Polynesia one is the owl which is the world of light and life and that is a realm in which humans reside but to Pau is the complementary realm that sits across this very potent threshold and that is a place of Darkness where ancestors and spirits believed to reside and so what these are doing creating a channel of communication with the gods who reside in that realm and you're wanting to draw them down into the world of light in life so that you can engage with them in contract with him so would it be going too far to see the intertwining of the dark hair and the light coconut fiber as the mixing of these two realms while they're being spun yes this binding is going to be flipping between these different realms so this idea of the Gods descending into the world of light into the world that we know I think is so beautifully encapsulated by each of those discs below the figure and then there's a double disc just below that and just above the binding that's really intriguing because we can't actually see what is indicated in those a tiny notches but we know from other examples of these fly whisks that you often have a series of pigs what pigs are a vital component of any ritual exchange between humans and their gods so nothing would happen on the ritual precinct without the sacrifice of pigs and you see this pronounced navel and the slightly distended belly people have thought that that's a reference to upward nuit who were the priests that lived within the precincts of the mirai and who were said to have had full bellies because of the access to the sacrificed pigs and other sacrificial foods that would have been offered up to the gods but in fact the seat of knowledge is very much centered in the stomach it's not in the head and so the men that could recite and memorize the esoteric language and sequence of words that would encourage and enable the gods to be present is actually embedded in the stomach the belly could so easily be obscured by the arms but instead it's framed by the shins by the forearms and it is the forward-most form and even that extended snout or proboscis is pointing down to it as the hands are clasps very obstructed arm and forearm and then this beautiful flaring of the legs so that everything is pointing to that navel the figure is human-like but it is so abstracted you can see this incredibly economical way that they've reduced the facial features to this very heavy brow and then this nose is notched and creates this pressed that joins the two heads together I love the way that the chin is undercut so that there's this beautiful negative space and I think that's very vital part of the whole design of this work in the same way that the red and the black of the binding and central shaft are alternating then the positive and negative space are doing precisely that it's such a good reminder that we should not look at objects from Oceania in a simplified way and one of the vital things is to try and recover how they were used why they were used we can really tell a lot from how it's constructed and the important materials that are incorporated into it [Music]