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Ancestral Spirit Masks

Masks are integral to the rituals and ceremonies of Papua New Guinea. Always a representation of an ancestral spirit, masks are produced using a wide variety of materials.

Masks are also revered in the belief that they allow connection to the various spirits they represent. When a mask begins to degrade from rot or insect damage, it is replaced by an almost identical one. The replaced mask, having been considered to have lost its spirit, can then be disposed of...

Although seen standing alone, masks, when in use, are part of a large costume, usually an elaborately adorned grass ‘skirt’, that completely hides the dancer.

Traditional colors used on masks are red, white and black, (with some shades of yellow, brown and orange). Pigments are all made by the artist using natural materials (Black: charcoal/oils, White: lime/oils & Red: chewed betel nut).
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Fig. 1:
Ancestor Mask,
Arapesh Mountains,
Wood, 14”


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Fig. 2:
Spirit Mask,
Keram River,
Lower Sepik
Wood, 23”

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Fig. 3:
Ancestor Mask,
Torembi Village,
Middle Sepik
Wood, shells, clay
& feathers 28”
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Fig. 4:
Spirit Mask,
Tambanam Village,
Middle Sepik
Wood, shells, boar tusks,
teeth & clay, 21”
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Fig. 5:
Spirit Mask,
Kairirn Island,
Coastal Region,
Wood, 20”
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Fig. 6:
Ancestors Mask,
Kuavenmas Village,
Black Water River,
Tortoise shell, clay, cane &
cassowary feathers, 19”
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Fig. 7:
Spirit Mask,
Sangriman Village,
Middle Sepik,
Tortoise shell, cane,
shells & cassowary
feathers, 24”
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Fig. 8:
Ancestor Mask,
Wokeo Island,
Coastal Region,
Wood, leaf bundle, 17”
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Fig. 9:
Ancestor Mask,
Ramu River,
Coastal Region,
Wood, 13”
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Fig. 10:
Mask,
Makanjambit Village,
Middle Sepik,
Wood, cane &
cassowary feathers, 17”
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Fig. 11:
Spirit Mask,
Keram River,
Tortoise shells, cane,
clay, dog teeth, boar
tusks & cassowary
feathers, 14”
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Fig. 12:
Spirit Mask,
Kandingai Village,
Middle Sepik,
Wood, shells, cane &
cassowary feathers, 23”
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Fig. 13:
Mask,
area unknown,
Sago palm frond &
human hair, 23”
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Fig. 18:
Mei Spirit Mask,
Korogo Village,
Middle Sepik,
Wood, shells, cassowary
feathers, boar tusks & clay,
30”
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Photography: Marc Assayag
Website: Marc Assayag, Stephen Lazarus, Mary Lou Beauharnois and David Driver
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