Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Mask (Baba Tagwa)

Date:
mid-20th century
Geography:
Papua New Guinea, Prince Alexander Mountains, Middle Sepik River region
Culture:
Abelam people
Medium:
Fiber, paint
Dimensions:
H. 16 1/4 x W. 11 7/8 x D. 17 1/8 in. (41.3 x 30.1 x 43.5 cm)
Classification:
Basketry-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.206.1564
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
The Abelam and neighboring peoples of the Prince Alexander Mountains in the Sepik region of northeast New Guinea create several types of basketry masks. They include the type seen here, known in the Abelam language as baba tagwa, which is worn over the head like a helmet, as well as tje yam masks used to decorate the gigantic long yams grown and exchanged competitively by Abelam men. Among the Abelam, baba tagwa masks are associated with the male initiation cycle, in which they are worn by men clad in shaggy costumes made from strips of leaves. During certain ceremonies, these imposing masked figures serve as guards. Brandishing lengths of bamboo or other weapons, the baba tagwa drive off women, children, and uninitiated men, who are not permitted to witness the secret initiation rites.
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1959]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1959, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1978

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