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Pacific art

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Baba or yau-baba (bell-shaped woven mask)

mid 20th century


Abelam people

Papua New Guinea


'Baba' masks form part of a full-body costume that is used during initiations. 'Yau-baba' masks are used in communal and private 'yam scenes' – displayed in the secret room of the yam-storage house together with 'urungwall figures' – to promote the growth of yams. They may also be shown together with shell rings in a private yam scene. A 'yau-baba' usually has its own name and is also linked to success in hunting pigs.

The pigments used on woven 'baba' or 'yau-baba' masks, 'urungwall' figures and 'bai' paintings are sourced from natural ochres and paints. Colours are believed to have magical properties if used with spells or mixed with certain ingredients.


Other Titles

Helmet mask

baba tagwa mask

Cultural origin

Abelam people


mid 20th century

Media category

Ceremonial object

Materials used

coil-woven plant fibre, rattan, grey, yellow, red and black pigments


45.7 cm height :

0 - Whole, 45.7 cm (18")


Purchased 1965


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Abelam people

Works in the collection


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


Daniel Thomas AM (Editor), 1965 Acquisitions, Sydney, 1965, 80. 144

Tony Tuckson, Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 46. 99, 'Helmet mask. Abelam. Basketry, painted. 45.7h. P3.1965'

Natalie Wilson, Hunting the collectors: Pacific collections in Australian museums, art galleries and archives, '(Works of) paradise and yet: Stanley Gordon Moriarty, Tony Tuckson and the collection of Oceanic Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 221-241, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2007, 233.