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In line with decisions made by the National Cabinet as communicated by the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is currently closed but will reopen to the public on 1 June. The Gallery will be observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of all visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the State. More information




Pacific art

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Timpsonk (cult mask)

mid 20th century
collected 1963


Mendi people

Papua New Guinea


During the 1950s, the 'timp' cult swept through the Mendi Valley in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, traded from the south through gift-exchange. Ritual knowledge was acquired by cult sponsors in exchange for valuables. The transactions took place over several months and were accompanied by complex and highly secretive ceremonial events.

'Timp' was performed to control malicious 'towmow' (ancestral ghosts believed to bring sickness). The innards and fat from slaughtered pigs were cooked in earth ovens then distributed to cult inductees. Blood was collected and offered to the ghosts. Spells were recited and the pork eaten, after which the bones were gathered and placed in a bundled 'corpse' that mimicked the bound bones of deceased kin. The 'corpse' was then taken from the cult house and paraded before spectators, escorted by men wearing 'timpsonk' masks. Finally, it was buried, as interning the bones weakened the 'towmow'.

[entry from Exhibition Guide for 'Melanesian art: redux', 2018, cat no 39]


Other Titles

Ceremonial clown mask



Timbsonk (cult mask)

Place where the work was made

Mendi Southern Highlands Province Papua New Guinea

Cultural origin

Mendi people


mid 20th century
collected 1963

Media category

Ceremonial object

Materials used

woven rattan, earth pigments, gold-lipped oyster shell (Pinctada maxima), bamboo, plant fibre, shells, burr seeds, machine-wove cotton fabric, plant fibre string, animal skin


woven mask 132.0 cm height; 48.0 to 52.0 cm diameter; figure 74.0 x 34.1 cm


Purchased 1977


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Mendi people

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Trevor Shearston, Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, 'Timpsonk (cult mask)', pg. 58-61, Sydney, 2014, 15, 59 (colour illus.), 60, 159. 7

Tony Tuckson, Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 47, 49. H3

Tony Tuckson, Melanesian art, Sydney, 1966, 18. 252

Natalie Wilson, Look, 'A myriad of artforms: rare and beautiful objects from the highlands of New Guinea', pg. 24-28, Sydney, May 2014, 27.