This painting of a marae, or Tahitian sacred enclosure, was created on Paul Gauguin’s first trip to Tahiti. The artist’s title—Parahi Te Marae (There Dwells the Temple)—suggests that it represents an actual or at least a representative Polynesian religious site, but the setting is instead a fanciful creation of Gauguin. By the time of his visit, most marae were in ruins, and he constructed this scene from diverse sources and objects. An idol similar to the monolithic statues, or mo‘ais, of Easter Island, more than two thousand miles east of Tahiti, stands alone on a volcanic hill, while the fence enclosing the sacred space is decorated with skulls and fretwork patterns inspired by diminutive tooth and shell ear ornaments worn on the Marquesas Islands, nearly nine hundred miles west. The unabashed appropriation of these objects for his own purposes is indicative of Gauguin’s fascination with mystery and mythmaking.
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