The complex, dynamic society of the Iatmul, a group living along the middle Sepik River, has produced a prodigious number of masks, figures, and other decorated objects. Although called a mask, this sculpture has neither eye holes nor sufficient width to cover the face. Instead, it was originally attached to a large, full-length fiber cone that covered the masquerader and was decorated with a colorful array of shells, feathers, leaves, and flowers. Mai masqueraders appeared at dances that were junior analogues to those honoring ancestors, which were performed by senior initiated men; the masks represent ancestral spirits.
Iatmul peoples, Papua New Guinea
Late 19th or early 20th century
Wood, pigment, cowrie shells
H. 25 in. (63.5 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 2010.3