Oceania, Papua New Guinea, East Sepik, Abelam, ca. mid 20th century CE. A fascinating woven mask with an avian, owl-like oval face, split in half by a thin projection that resembles a narrow beak, with two round, open eyes. Above the head is an openwork wooden crest, with a large openwork frame of woven reeds around it; these are painted dark brownish red, white, and black. Masks like this example have traditionally been used to adorn the heads of huge tubers, rather than humans. Size: 9.7" W x 20.5" H (24.6 cm x 52.1 cm)
Curious? Indeed, the Abelam cultivate massive yams in addition to the ordinary variety. These can be as much as 12 feet long. According to the curatorial department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "A man’s social status is determined largely by his success in growing long yams. Each man has a permanent exchange partner to whom he ceremonially presents his largest yams following the annual harvest, later receiving those of his rival in return. Men who are consistently able to give their partners longer yams than they receive gain great prestige. Lavishly adorned for the presentation ceremony, the finest long yams are essentially transformed into human images, decorated in the manner of men in full ceremonial regalia." (http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/311328)
Provenance: ex-private Tucson, Arizona, USA collection; ex-Ron Perry collection; Ron Perry collected art and artifacts for more than 40 years in New Guinea and the South Pacific. He collaborated with Carolyn Leigh to write a book entitled, "Art Dealer in the Last Unknown: Ron Perry & New Guinea Art: the early years 1964-1972" (2011)
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