• Oceania

    Sumatran helmet mask

    Here is a very fine example of a Batak ceremonial dance mask from the Sumatra region of Indonesia. It is carefully carved and has a nice patina. Batak is a collective term used to identify a number of closely related Austronesian ethnic groups predominantly found in North Sumatra, Indonesia who speak Batak languages. The term is used to include the Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun, Toba, Angkola, and Mandailing which are related groups with distinct languages and customs.

  • Oceania

    Modern Maori woman’s chin tattoo

    When New Zealand was colonized in the 1800s, the ancient Māori practice of moko kauae—or sacred female facial tattooing—began to fade away. Now the art form is having a resurgence. Here’s what it means to stamp your identity on your face. For New Zealand Māori women, the moko kauae, or traditional female chin tattoo, is considered a physical manifestation of their true identity. It is believed every Māori woman wears a moko on the inside, close to their heart; when they are ready, the tattoo artist simply brings it out to the surface. Last month, Nanaia Mahuta became the first member of parliament in the world to wear a moko…

  • Oceania

    Fern mask from Thomas Murray

    When I see something this unusual I just have to pass it along to our readers. Ritual mask Malekula Island, Vanuatu Fern root 19th or early 20th Century 13.5 inches This mask of extraordinary presence and age is likely to have been carved on Malekula Island for a spirit ritual. The purpose of such pieces has not been well documented but the great ones, as in this case, are plainly early. Save

  • Oceania

    Matua mask from Oceania

    Northeast of Papua New Guinea is the much smaller island of New Ireland. Though small in size and population, the Melanesian people who live there have always had a rich tradition of masquerade. After the Cook explorations in the middle 19th century, a few of their masks began to show up in Europe, and like so many of the West African masks (the Yaure-Baule you just saw), those few Oceanic masks also had an effect on European modern art. If you go to the “Oceania” category in our archive you can see another much different mask from New Ireland. They are both very artistic and complex, and unfortunately, quite rare.…

  • Oceania

    Mortlock Island mask

    I don’t normally do this, but if you go to eBay and search “Mortlock Island mask” you can see and read all about this Micronesian rarity. Earlier today I posted a Polynesian mask that is also unusual. Unlike Melonesia, these two large areas of the world hardly practice masquerade at all. Both masks are rare… and you could actually own this one if you’re willing to spend several hundred dollars. Have you ever seen a Polynesian mask and a Micronesian mask in the same day? Save

  • Oceania

    Maori mask from New Zealand

    This is the best Maori mask I have seen on the Internet. The quality of the carving is fantastic! Its mouth is open, with the tongue sticking out and the eyes protruding. The expression is aggressive and looks like the grimaces that Maoris make during war dances. However, it is not made for wearing. It celebrates an ancestor and would have been found on a Maori meeting house wall. The lines on this mask mirror Maori tattoos, which they had on their faces to make them look fierce in warfare. Today some Maori people are reviving this artistic tradition as they try to preserve their culture and identity. The Maoris…

  • Oceania

    Mask collecting for the rich

    Here is an older mosquito mask from the Bungain people of East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. It was collected around 1930 when the Bungain were a stone-age culture isolated from the modern world. The mask was carved with stone, shells or bones, and colored with natural pigments. It is in good condition and there is documentation of its origin and subsequent owners. (That’s called provenance.) It will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in NYC on May 15th… just five days from now. The suggested price range is $150,000-250,000. Don’t worry my friends, there will be some pieces selling for as little as $2,000-5,000. It must be great being in…

  • Europe,  Oceania

    There’s an Easter surprise in the Philippines.

    Just south of Luzon on the island of Maranduque there are Roman Catholics who celebrate the death and resurrection with realistic masks and costumes. Called the Morones Festival, it’s quite a pageant and not something you would expect to see in the South Pacific or anywhere else in Asia. It celebrates the Holy Week Festivities to the fullest with parades, processions and other activities. As in the Spanish Colonial traditions, many of the participants are costumed as Jewish followers of Jesus and the ruling Romans. Morones means army helmet in Spanish. The Morones Festival was started in 1807 by a Jesuit priest from Mexico. This Mexican folk play re-enacts the…

  • Oceania

    Demon mask from the Himalayas

    Q:  Hoping to learn more regarding the origin of this mask. Is it from Borneo? Looking at other masks online it seems to bear resemblance to the Oni masks of Japan. This mask was purchased by a donor in 1984-85 in Kuching, Sarawak on the island of Borneo from an antique dealer.  This mask is part of an art collection at a small college. Just curious if we could learn anything new!  Sarah, 1122 A:  I can’t find a picture of a similar mask anywhere. The wax seal is something the Nepalese customs service used to place on the rear of masks purchased for export. It is likely to be…

  • Oceania

    Rare Oceanic Mask

    A choice example of Oceanic art has been added to the collection at the Toledo Museum of Art. Purchased at Christie’s, the mask is one of four known distinguished examples from Saibai Island in the Torres Straits north of Australia.  Masks in this style are called “mawa,” meaning “face,” and are believed to represent mythical heroes whose appearances signal important events and rites of passage. There are only three other examples in this style, two in the Australian Museum in Sydney and one in Barbier Mueller Museum in Geneva, Switzerland. I posted this as a reminder of the wonderful masks you can see in museums. You can also purchase Oceanic…