Art/ Collection/ Art Object


late 19th–early 20th century
Papua New Guinea, Lower Sepik, Yuat River region
Biwat people
Wood, paint, fiber
H. 12 1/8 x W. 7 5/16 x D. 6 1/2 in. (30.8 x 18.6 x 16.5 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
The masks of the Biwat people of the Yuat River, a tributary of the Lower Sepik River, appear to have portrayed two major types of supernatural beings: forest spirits, who lived in the woods surrounding the village, and water spirits, who inhabited rivers and other bodies of water. This mask likely represents a water spirit. In one Biwat village, similar masks formed the heads of human-like figures erected on the backs of gigantic reptilian effigies representing the Crocodile Mother, who symbolically swallowed and later disgorged young novices during initiation rites. The masks also were probably worn on the head during other ceremonies. The cane armature on the back of this example likely served to hold it in place.
Raymond and Laura Wielgus, Chicago; [Charles Ratton, Paris]; [Allan Frumkin Gallery, New York, until 1961]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1961, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1961–1978

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 155.

The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 127.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 71.

Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 51, 91.

Dagen, Philippe, and Maureen Murphy. Charles Ratton: L'invention des arts primitifs. Paris: Skira Flammarion, 2013, p. 111, 79.

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