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Pacific art

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Gable mask from ceremonial house facade

mid 20th century
collected 1963


Sawos people

Papua New Guinea


The settlement at Torembi consists of three villages, with the oldest village in a forest clearing close to swamps that provide sago for sustenance. Sago flour is traded for fish with their Iatmul neighbours on the river. Each Torembi village has two men's ceremonial houses, one for each moiety. Every ceremonial house displays the totems of the clans represented, while gable masks embody the spirits of the ancestors.

This mask, with its finely woven and protruding eyes, nose and mouth, closely resembles one photographed in situ in 1959 at Torembi by anthropologist Alfred Bühler. It is now in the collection of the MH de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco.

[entry from Exhibition Guide for 'Melanesian art: redux', 2018, cat no 15]


Other Title

Dance board

Cultural origin

Sawos people


mid 20th century
collected 1963

Materials used

sago palm petioles, black palm wood and cane frame, woven natural fibre, cassowary feathers (Casuarius), plant fibre tassels, natural pigments


136.0 x 76.2 x 20.0 cm


Purchased 1976


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Sawos people

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

  • Melanesian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 20 Apr 1966–22 May 1966

  • Melanesian art: redux, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 Nov 2018–17 Feb 2019

Referenced in 4 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales (Editor), Catalogue of acquisitions 1976, Sydney, 1976, 95 (illus.). 292

Suzanne Greub, Authority and ornament: art of the Sepik River, Basel, 1985. see 333, 'Gable mask from a men's house' for similar gable mask from Torembi Village in the Middle Sepik. Colour reproduction.

Stan Moriarty, Collection of S G Moriarty, Dee Why, 1970, (illus.). This mask can be seen with other objects on page captioned: 'A corner of the Sepik collection featuring, canoe prows, pottery, lime holders etc.', in the house of Stan Moriarty in Dee Why.

Tony Tuckson, Melanesian art, Sydney, 1966, 11. 103: "Board in the form of a face. Bark on frame painted light red and white on dark grey ground. Basketry hanging eyes, nose, mouth and tongue, and ears. Cassowary feather "beard", 46h x 30w, Sepik River. Coll: S.G. Moriarty. M969".