Ambumb Figurine: Visual Analysis before Researching


Artist unknown, Papua New Guinea ‘The Ambum stone’ [Pre-historic zoomorphic figure; possibly representing the embryo of a long-beaked echidna] c.1500 BCE greywacke stone Collection of the national gallery of Australia

The Ambumb Figurine is a sculpture work made out of graywacke stone which is 20 cm high. It is a three-dimensional work of an animal in prehistoric time. The overall effect of the sculpture is that the artist creates a dynamic figure of a supernatural combination of different kinds of animals which seems to be approaching the viewers, while the space between the neck and the body and the shape of the work form a perfect balance in both an artistic and physical way.

The animal seems like a kind of kangaroo or at least a marsupial animal because it has a big belly in front of it. With its hands putting on the belly and the gentle curve of the sculpture, it gives the viewers a feeling that this sculpture portrays a female figure as it reminds them of pregnancy of a mother kangaroo. The lines and curves which portray different parts of the body are gentle without many sharp edges, so the sculpture looks very stable and peaceful on the ground as if the animal is alive and it enjoys the happiness in its life.  However, by looking at the upper limb and head, the animal is not a kangaroo to me anymore. Instead, it becomes the combination of fish, horses, and pigs. The work portrays the eyes of a fish, the mouth and nose of a horse, and the manner of a pig because the whole sculpture appears to be clumsy and plain to me from the way it is sitting.

It is very hard to see the animal’s legs on the picture, and the whole sculpture is standing on a very small point at the bottom, which is not necessary to be flat. It amazed me very much because so long ago in prehistoric time, people knew the principle of physics. They controlled the center of gravity very well so that the sculpture work does not fall down even though it stands on a small base. Based on the mimetic features and details of many different animals appears on the sculpture, this figure seems to be supernatural to me as a dragon, phoenix, and unicorn are created to meet people’s fantasy about the nature. Therefore, the Ambumb Figurine might express the certain characteristics which human beings could not achieve, so people hope this kind of animal might help them.

The focus of this sculpture is the head of the animal. Since it is three-dimensional work made of a single color stone, light and color do not play a role in terms of emphasizing the focus. However, the lines do this job with all the curves coming towards and focusing on the nose. Therefore, the viewers feel that the nose is much closer to them, and the animal is just facing towards them in a very short distance. The focus on the nose brings the art piece to us as if it is dynamic and approaching.

Also, this work is symmetry as most of the animals on the world are. Even though it is not framed, the effect of curves on the nose gives viewers a feeling that this part of the work just goes beyond the frames.

The artist also leaves the middle space between the neck and body empty, so the space balanced the work pretty well. Since the neck and the head of the figure is relatively longer than other animals we see now, they curl in a gentle and pleasant way which appeals to the readers. The curve formed by the neck left a large space in between. The head and the body would seem to push and squeeze each other in the limited room if there were no space.