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Pacific art

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Body mask

late 1980s


Kamoro (Mimika) people

Papua New Guinea


The Kamoro live in the Mimika region along the south-west coast of the island of New Guinea. Their neighbours to the east are the Sempan and Asmat peoples and they share a traditional way of life dominated by cycles of feasts and rituals that celebrate the stages of life, from birth to death.

It is only men who make and use spirit masks – generally known as 'mbii-kao' or skin of the spirit in Kamaro – which are excluded from women and non-initiates. They are created in complete isolation by specialists who have inherited the right to make them. Although details of this particular mask are not known, it is likely this mask was part of the 'mbii-kawanè', a mask feast in honour of the dead in which masked figures appear in the guise of the spirits of the dead, paying a final visit to their village before leaving for the 'kapao', or interior, away from the coast.

For further reading see Pauline van der Zee, 'Art as contact with the ancestors. Visual arts of the Kamoro and Asmat of Western Papua', Bulletin 389, KIT Publishers, Amsterdam, 2009; and Jan Pouwer, 'Gender, ritual and social formation in West Papua', Brill, 2010



late 1980s

Materials used

plant fibre, sago palm leaves, wood, bamboo, feathers, Coix lacryma-jobi seeds, earth pigments


165.0 cm height

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of Todd Barlin 2020. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Kamoro (Mimika) people

Works in the collection