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Three Fine Old New Guinea Woven Baba Masks Abelam People East Sepik River Province Papua New Guinea


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Collection No. Left: TB-2793 Middle:TB-2794 Right:TB-3439
Size Heights: 55cm - 65cm
Oceanic Arts Australia buys and sells tribal New Guinea art

These Fine Old New Guinea Woven Baba Tagwa Masks are from the Abelam People in the East Sepik River Province of Papua New Guinea

These very fine old Masks each have a great shape, making their faces very expressive; the masks themselves are impressive works of sculpture but to the Abelam, their power lies in the bright polychrome ochre paint applied to their surfaces the Abelam, the paint is a magical substance that endows the figures with supernatural power and beauty.

The Abelam woven basketry masks are made from a type of wild Lygodium vine fibre, the older masks like this example are finer & more tightly woven. The ochre painting is renewed each time the masks are used so they build up a layered smoky patina from long use and storage.

The Abelam and neighbouring peoples of the Prince Alexander Mountains in the Sepik region of northeast New Guinea create several types of basketry masks, they include the type seen here, known in the Abelam language as baba tagwa, which is worn over the head like a helmet, as well as the better-known woven Yam Masks used to decorate the gigantic long ceremonial yams grown and exchanged competitively by Abelam men.

Among the Abelam, baba tagwa masks are associated with the male initiation cycle, in which they are worn by men clad in shaggy costumes made from strips of leaves. During certain ceremonies, these imposing masked figures serve as guards, brandishing lengths of bamboo or other weapons, the baba tagwa drive off women, children, and uninitiated men, who are not permitted to witness the secret initiation rites

Beginning in childhood, each Abelam male must pass through eight separate initiation rites over the course of twenty to thirty years, before he is a fully initiated man. Each successive ritual requires both a physical ordeal and the viewing of increasingly elaborate displays of sacred objects in specially constructed chambers within the men’s ceremonial house. This process continues until the final rites, in which the initiate is shown the largest and most sacred of all displays—the brilliantly painted figures and other images portraying the powerful clan spirits called nggwalndu and ancestor figures.

Provenance: The Todd Batlin Collection of Oceanic Art

Exhibited & Published in Oceanic Arts Pacifica: Artworks from The Todd Barlin Collection at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre Sydney 2016. Published in the exhibition catalogue on page 58:

I first went to Papua New Guinea in 1985 for an adventure & what I found was that I really enjoyed being with the people of New Guinea, over the next 38 years I spent extensive time spent collecting and documenting traditional art & ceremonies in remote areas of Papua New Guinea & West Papua, The Solomon Islands & Vanuatu & the other Pacific Islands countries. During these travels, I made major collections of New Guinea & Oceanic Art for major Museums and Public Art Galleries

I was honoured by being in the prestigious Louvre Museum Magazine for the collections I made for The Museum of African & Oceanic Art Paris in 1996 (now the Musee Quai Branly) for the exhibition “Asmat et Mimika d’ Irian Jaya April 1996 At THE MUSEE NATIONAL des ARTS D’AFRIQUE et d’ OCEANIE, Paris

See all of the links & photos in my new EXHIBITIONS GALLERY and there is the link to the article in the prestigious Louvre Magazine 1996

I have artwork for Museums & Art Galleries but also for collectors at every stage of their collecting. I want to encourage people to explore the fine art of New Guinea & West Papua and the Pacific Islands and to be able to see and touch the artworks in a relaxed and friendly manner in my Sydney Gallery.  I would like to invite you to visit my gallery and see the artworks in person and also look at my website www.oceanicartsaustralia.com  where there are many Galleries & Sub Galleries to explore.

My Gallery of nearly 40 years is the last physical gallery in Sydney that specialises in New Guinea & Oceanic Art. Sydney is just a couple hours’ flight to New Guinea & the Pacific Islands where all of these amazing artworks came from, Australia’s closest neighbours. 

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