Oceania, Papua New Guinea, East Sepik, Abelam, early to mid 20th century CE. A hand-painted and finely woven vegetal fiber mask boasting a characteristically bold visage of large spiraled eyes, a pronounced nose/beak, disk-shaped ears, and an openwork headdress, embellished with rich red surviving pigments. A strong example, probably created for use in festivals honoring the yam, the crucial crop of the Abelam people who live in the Maprik district. Masks like this example have traditionally been used to adorn the heads of huge tubers, rather than humans. Size: 14" W x 18" H (35.6 cm x 45.7 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."
Provenance: private Tucson, Arizona, USA collection, acquired between 1950 and 1985
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Fraying to rim, headdress, and ears, but not in danger of tearing. Some chipping of pigments. Light deposits on surface.