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20th C. PNG Sepik River Woven Yam Mask, Owl-Like Face

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 huge projection that resembles a narrow beak, with two round, open eyes. A diamond-shaped body is below the head, terminating in a small, knob-like handle. The mask is finely woven from natural fibers and hand painted with red and grey pigments, created for festivals surrounding the cherished yam, the crucial crop of the Abelam people of northeast Papua New Guinea. Masks like this example have traditionally been used to adorn the heads of huge tubers, rather than humans. Size: 6.8" W x 20.55" H (17.3 cm x 52.2 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) Size: 13.25" L x 9.75" W x 13.5" H (33.7 cm x 24.8 cm x 34.3 cm)

Condition: Minor pigment loss and fraying to some fibers on surface, else intact and excellent.

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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