Unearthed: Matching figurines from unconnected prehistoric regions

Matilda Battersby
Monday 14 June 2010 13:24
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A collection of tiny, broken ceramic feet, ornate goggle-eyed statues and the famed ‘Grimes Grave Goddess’ are among 100 prehistoric figurines going on show at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts next week to enable a comparison between a matching (but totally unconnected) tradition of human model making in Japan and Europe thousands of years ago.

‘Unearthed’ features six ornate Jomon figurines (known as dogu) from Japan which are up to 16,000 years old. The beautifully carved statues are remarkably well complimented by a collection of Neolithic and Eneolithic statues from the Balkans which date back 8,500 years.

The exhibition creators say the comparison of both sets of figures made by villagers in totally unconnected regions, has thrown up “intriguing similarities and differences.” Many of the statues have been made to be hand held and are typically about 5 cm in height (2.3cm at smallest). Both sets are made from similar materials and have breaks in similar places.

Click here or on the image to preview the Unearthed exhibition

"There may never again be the chance to see this many ancient objects from the worlds' two great figurine traditions together in one exhibition. It is impossible to look at these evocative European figurines and Japanese dogu and not be transported to mystical worlds from deepest prehistory,” said the exhibition’s curator Douglass Bailey, of San Francisco State University.

Bailey said the exhibition’s purpose was to question the use of the figurines in both cultures to add to both an historical, anthropological and archaeological knowledge. He wants visitors to ask: What did these objects mean to their makers? Were they goddesses and gods? Were they toys? Were they portraits? To help explore these questions visitors to the exhibition will be given a biscuit-fired figurine by artist Sue Maufe.

“Small things, especially ones that look human, allow us to think about our place in the world in new ways. [The exhibition] develops this notion and creates fresh opportunities for us to reconsider who we were in the past, who we are today, and who we want to be,” said Andrew Cochrane, unearthed curator, University of East Anglia.

' Unearthed' opens on Tuesday 22nd June and runs until Saturday 29th August at the Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich www.scva.org.uk

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