The Surreal World: Rapa Nui

Moai-Susanne Rempt 2017
Moai-Susanne Rempt 2017

As I noted in a previous post, Redraw the Map, Re-Write History and Re-Invent Reality concerning the Surrealist Map of the World, Easter Island and its mysterious, magnificent moai held a special place in the Surrealist imagination. The Pope of Surrealism, Andre Breton began collecting Easter Island moai kavakava (small wooden statuettes) and masks from the age of 15 and had amassed a major collection by the time of his death. The heads of the moai featured in the Thursday section of Max Ernst’s collage novel Une Semaine de Bonte, which also feature prominently bird-headed humans. Given Ernst’s marked obsession with birds and hybrid birds figures, (Loplop, Superior of Birds) it is tempting to think that he was familiar with the Rapa Nui’s Birdman cult and its representations found in petroglyphs across the island.

Easter Island also featured in Surrealist literature, not least this deceptive tale of longing and imagination by Jean Ferry (see Kafka, Or “The Secret Society”) that is included below, as well as examples of Rapa Nui art and selections from Une Semaine de Bonte. The header image is by S.R of Blackpenart, of a moai that has seemingly lost its way and ended up in a tree-lined city park in Germany.

Rapa Nui

I reached Easter Island on February 13th 1937. For thirty years, I have been waiting for this moment; for thirty years of my life and times I have been thinking of my immense desire to see Easter Island, I thought I’d never get to go, that it was too difficult, that it was a wild dream. And since things must be desired so stubbornly that they come true, on that day- February 13th 1937 – I set foot on the soil of Easter Island.

Since I had been thinking about it for thirty years, you would think I’d worked out my schedule in advance. Besides, I had no time to lose, as the Chilean training ship that had brought me was only putting in at port for two days. I am not lying when I say I was trembling with emotion under a strange, pale sun; I had a very hard time convincing myself this wasn’t the same old dream again, the dream where I dream I’ve reached Easter Island, trembling with emotion under a strange, pale sun. But no, it was all real; the wind, the black cliff, the three rippling volcanoes. There really were no trees, no springs. And, faithful to a date set at the dawn of time, the great statues awaited me on the slopes of Rano Raraku.

I know that at this point, to avoid disappointing anyone, I should describe the dreadful bitterness of dead desire, desire fulfilled. I should say that, face to face with the sisters of Hoa Hakananai’s, I realised that it wasn’t worth waiting so long, coming so far for something so simple, so real. I should complain about the insects, the Rapa Nui who kept pushing on me hollow-bellied statuettes clearly made the night before. Too bad for those born to despair. Who I was in the depth of the crater is nobody’s business but my own. Quite simply, I knew why I was there, why for thirty years I’d so stubbornly wanted to be here someday. And I was. At last…

Not a line of the above is true, except that for thirty years, I’ve wanted to go to Easter Island, where something awaits me. But I’ve never yet been, and I probably never will.

Jean Ferry-1950

An over-sized Easter Island (Ile de Paques) on the Surrealist Map of the World-1929
Moai-Rano Raraku

Moai at Ahu Tongariki
Moai at Ahu Tongariki

Moai kavakava
Moai Kavakava
Moai with Birdman petroglyphs
Rapa Nui-Rongorongo script

Max Ernst-Une Semaine du Bonte
Max Ernst-Une Semaine du Bonte
Max Ernst-Une Semaine du Bonte

42 thoughts on “The Surreal World: Rapa Nui

  1. One of your best posts so far, in my opinion… Might be even beating Art Brut! There’s this special scent of anticipation and adventure clinging to it. Oh yes, totally love it! And the drawing fits really well! Thank you for featuring me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you though my other posts are left feeling neglected and unloved. It was fun writing it and curating the art, so many wonderful things! I have always been fascinated by the moai ever since I saw a picture in a magazine when I was young. There was a vogue in the late 70’s for them as they featured in the whole aliens came down to earth and built monuments schtick. It was my pleasure.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was joking of course and I am glad that you think it is one of my best. Good luck with the drawing. Keep up the good work. What we see in childhood affects us more profoundly I think.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Easter Island is one of the most intriguing regions on the planet. The mysticism and concept of visitations of alien beings to this area stills haunts us. Surrealistic art seems a natural artistic reaction to the inexplicable. Thank you Mr. Cake…enjoyed.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I read that shamans were depicted by earlier peoples in cave paintings, sculptures as bird headed people as they were known as healers who had the ability to travel the astral realms and bring back information to heal the sick and help the tribes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes and it would have made sense for the Rapa Nui as they were on an island hundreds of miles of ocean away from anyway. Only birds could travel, in this world and the spirit world. Great art they created, among the finest in the world.


  4. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful? I’m picturing drifting along in the air in floaty quiet air machines, Kind of balloon style I guess. Just above lush tropical greenery, with fabulous creatures and birds of Paradise.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The surreal overlaps the subreal. We end up in an age of definition. Then they created the hyper real – which is stupid (umberto ego). Let’s just be real? Good friends, great lovers. And all the pain that life entails

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Mr. Cake, I’m taken with the idea of “desire fulfilled”. The perceived anticipation of an experience most often is/or seems better than the actual experience, and I’m pleasantly surprised when it’s the other way around. Wonderful post, always! ~ Miss Cranes

    Btw, love that you included Max Ernst.

    Liked by 1 person

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