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Pacific art

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early 20th century-mid 20th century
collected 1965


Unknown Artist


The Ramu River flows into the sea close to the Sepik River mouth. Masks from the coastal Sepik and lower Sepik are based on an ovoid form, some tapering at the top and chin. The nose is often broader at the bridge than the tip and in many cases is elongated which has led to the designation 'beak style' (Felix Speiser, "Art styles in the Pacific", in Douglas Newton (ed.) 'The many faces of primitive art: a critical anthology', New Jersey 1966, pg. 149). Writers tend to stress the angle of the eyes but there are many variants. There is however nearly always a formal interrelation between eyes and nose. The mouth is nearly always small, an incised crescent form placed towards the bottom of the face. Some areas of red and black paint decoration are still discernable on this mask. Generally masks from the coastal Sepik are less decorated than those of the middle Sepik.

AB Lewis ("New Guinea mask", Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, Department of Anthropology, no. 4, 1922, pg. 115-19) describes a ceremony at Awar, south-east of the Ramu River mouth, where four masks were used representing water spirits. Two very large feather head-dress masks were male; two wooden ones of the same variety as this mask, with cane frames covered with leaves were female, the mothers of the males. A procession of drummers and singers accompanied the masks to the end of the village and back to an enclosure. The performance took place twice for five days before the 'spirits' returned to their lagoon.

revised entry from AJ Tuckson, 'Some Sepik River art from the collection', AGNSW Quarterly, vol 13, no 3, 1972, pg. 674.


Place where the work was made

Ramu River Madang Province Papua New Guinea


early 20th century-mid 20th century
collected 1965

Materials used

carved wood, red and yellow ochre, black pigment


43.0 x 16.5 x 12.0 cm


Purchased 1965


Not on display

Accession number


Referenced in 2 publications


Tony Tuckson, Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 43. 15

Tony Tuckson, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Some Sepik River art from the collection', pg. 666-679, Sydney, Apr 1972, 667, 670, 674 (illus.). plate no. 1