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Malagan Mask

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Malagan Mask
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Unknown Artist


Malagan Mask

Creation Date

ca. 1870 - 1890

Medium & Support

polychrome, wood, natural fiber


16 1/8 in. x 12 1/2 in. x 8 5/8 in. (41 cm. x 31.8 cm. x 21.9 cm.)

Credit Line

Gift of Harold M. Sewall

Accession Number



Public Domain

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The Malagan ceremony takes place among the tribes of New Ireland, an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The ritual is meant to complete the cycle of mourning for those who have died, sending off their spirits that are represented through masks like these, as well as through painted panels and other sculptures. They were used during the elaborate ceremonies, which sometimes last days and include trade, feasting, music, song, and dance. Once the ritual is completed the masks lose their power and meaning, and are no longer needed. Traditionally they were burned, but with the increased presence of Europeans in the late nineteenth century, Melanesians realized they could sell the sculptures to the visiting westerners hungry for “exotic” ritual objects from cultures around the world.

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Image: overall
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Portfolios: FEAT|Indigenous Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas   FEAT|Public Domain