Fine and Rare Tami Islands Mask, Huon Gulf, Papua New Guinea
Wood, pigments, fiber, metal
height 12 1/2in (31.7cm)
Savage Club Collection, Melbourne, Australia
Marcia and John Friede Collection, New York
Cf. Phelps (1978: fig 990) for an example in the Hooper Collection, and another similar example in the Australia Museum, Sydney (E. 1904) acquired from Mr. Beringer in 1885.
"The Tami Islands are located in the Huon Gulf about three hundred miles east of the mouth of the Sepik River. A rich and distinctive wood-carving tradition developed there. It combines depiction of human and animal figures with geometric relief designs which are often enhanced by the application of lime and red and black pigments. Because the islands are coral and lack good soil, clay, or sources of hard stone, it was necessary for the inhabitants to produce items that could be traded for food, pottery, and some for adze blades. Quantities of bowls, neckrests, lime spatulas, and suspension hooks were therefore made for exchange as well as local use." (Wardwell, 1994: p 88). While there are quantities of works made for exchange, masks such as the present example were not, and are therefore significantly more rare.
Most likely representing a powerful spirit or ancestor, the mask is finely stone-carved with hollowed out back of overall rectangular form with rounded edges, the eyes slightly sunken in below the forehead, both the elongated nose with flared nostrils and the elliptical shaped mouth of fierce expression with fang-like teeth incised, are both raised above the facial plane, triangular form decorations painted black above and below the eyes accentuate the expressiveness, the sides are carved with attached appendages in openwork carving; fine, varied light and dark-brown patina with painted highlights.