Sunday, 1 May 2016

Bas-relief . . . ‘Soyez mystérieuses . . .’ *


Birth Rites
Since childhood, the girl infants of that tribe had been confined
by wire muzzles, each tiny visage gradually compressed
until their frontal aspect wore a three-quarters view.
The greater the compression the more
the dish-shaped profile was prized.
On ceremonial days the young girls
danced like hieroglyphs on a frieze ;
the men were forbidden sight of the crushed
nether-faces of their future brides.
It is well-known that humankind has
an active, dextrous side ; the bravest warrior
confronts the tumult side-on, sword-arm upraised.
So the young tribal beauty must look upon life
as might a wall-eyed mare ;
in a given dimension
defined by the brute
urgings of her
gap-toothed
drovers.


* The imperative ‘Soyez mystérieuses’ (‘Be mysterious’) is an inscription carved by Gauguin on a bas-relief polychrome panel in limetree wood, which may be viewed in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris (it was exhibited at the Salon des XX in Brussels in 1891). However, the panels to which Birth Rites refers originate from West Africa. Such is the power of their symbolism, and the secret ritualism of their making, these carved panels are not seen by strangers, and are commonly hidden from the public eye within the houses of families or in tribal sanctuaries.  

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