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Early 20th C. PNG Painted Wood Yam Mask - Man & Bird

Oceania, Papua New Guinea, East Sepik, Southern Abelam people, ca. early to mid 20th century CE. A finely handmade balsa wood mask with a standing cockatoo carved as part of the head. The balsa wood is remarkably light, used deliberately to create a larger sculpture to decorate a yam. The face is long, with white eyes, a long, thin, nose, and a painted, bright red mouth. The bird is of similar color, with red and black bands around the neck and red details on the wings and mouth. This was 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: 3.55" W x 12.15" H (9 cm x 30.9 cm); 13.1" H (33.3 cm) on included custom stand.

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)

Condition: Light wear to pigment, with small scratches commensurate with age. Otherwise in beautiful condition.

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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