Turtle-shell masks such as this example are a unique contribution to world art by islanders of the Torres Strait, the passage between New Guinea and Australia. More than 270 islands, occupying over 18, 000 square miles, are located there, but fewer than 20 are inhabited, and turtle-shell masks or their depictions on rock paintings are associated with only about half of those. Though the masks have not been made or worn on the islands for more than a century, their unusual material and construction and striking, if little understood, imagery place them among the most recognizable forms of Melanesian art.
Erub Island, Australia
Turtle shell, clam shell, resin, sennit, wood, human hair, cassowary feathers
H. 20 ½ in. (52.1 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 2010.13