The unique turtle-shell masks of the Torres Strait Islands that lie between Australia and New Guinea are among the most striking works of Oceanic art. Attributed to Mabuiag Island, this work displays the composite human and animal imagery typical of western Torres Strait masks. Turtle-shell masks in the Western Torres Strait reportedly were used during funerary ceremonies and increase rites, designed to ensure bountiful harvests and an abundance of fish and game. The ceremonies often involved performances in which senior men, wearing the masks and rustling costumes of grass, reenacted events from the lives of culture-heroes, which were drawn from oral tradition. Worn over the head like a helmet, this work depicts a human face, possibly representing once such culture-hero. It is surmounted by a frigate bird, perhaps representing his personal totem.
Dimensions:H. 21 1/2 x W. 25 x D. 22 3/4 in. (54.6 x 63.5 x 57.8 cm)
Credit Line:The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1967
Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, Farnham, Dorset, U.K.; [K. John Hewett, London, until 1967]; The Museum of Primitive Art, 1967–1978
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of Oceania, Africa and the Americas from The Museum of Primitive Art," May 10–August 17, 1969.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sculpture of Oceania," April 4–September 5, 1972.
Seattle Art Museum. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," January 5, 1975–February 16, 1975.
American Federation of Arts. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," January 5, 1975–May 15, 1977.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," March 23, 1975–May 4, 1975.
Dallas Museum of Art. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," June 8, 1975–July 20, 1975.
Art Institute of Chicago. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," August 25, 1975–October 10, 1975.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," November 9, 1975–December 21, 1975.
Toledo Museum of Art. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," April 11, 1976–May 25, 1976.
Walker Art Center. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," June 27, 1976–August 8, 1976.
Denver Art Museum. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," September 10, 1976–November 7, 1976.
de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," March 12, 1977–May 15, 1977.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Jewelry: The Body Transformed," November 12, 2018–February 24, 2019.
Newton, Douglas. New Guinea Art in the Collection of the Museum of Primitive Art. Handbook (Museum of Primitive Art), Vol. Handbook No. 2. New York: Museum of Primitive Art, 1967, Unpaged. no. 116, no. 117.
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. 206.
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: American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 145.
Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 94–95.
Farr, Francine. "Face and Crocodile Mask from Mabuiag, Torres Strait." Art Tribal vol. 1 (1987).
Pelrine, Diane. Affinities of Form: Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas from the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1996.
Herle, Anita, and Jude Philp. "Custom and Creativity: Nineteenth-Century Collections of Torres Strait Art." In The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, edited by Sylvia Kleinert, and Margo Neale. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 158, 159.
Abramovic, Norman C. "Art of the Torres Strait in the Barbier-Mueller Collection." Arts and Cultures vol. 3 (2002), pp. 224–25, 228, 230, 232–33.
David, Bruno. "Archaeology of Torres Strait Turtle-Shell Masks: The Badu Cache." Australian Aboriginal Studies vol. 1 (2004), pp. 18–22.
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, pp. 134–137, no. 83.
Kjellgren, Eric. "The Pacific Resurfaces: New Galleries for Oceanic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Tribal Art (Winter 2007–2008), p. 98.
Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 58–61.
Holcomb, Melanie, ed. Jewelry: The Body Transformed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018, pp. 238–43, pl. 215.
Nuku, Maia. Oceania: The Shape of Time. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2023, pp. 130–131, fig. 38.
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